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It is part of the essence of the man we honor next, that he is not sitting among us today. Larry Johnston has never sought recognition. To the contrary, he has always tried to avoid it. Given that, I know he is embarrassed every time he walks along the Johnston Terrace on the south side of the St. John Student Center.
But, Johnston Terrace is merely one reminder of Larry’s time at McDonogh. His retirement means that we will no longer see that slight figure with its spectacled face and bow tie walking around campus. Yet, McDonogh will never be without the Johnston way.
The poet Carl Sandburg wrote a poem called, “Prayers of Steel.” Larry quoted its second stanza as his Folio Philosophy Statement.
That stanza begins this way:
Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a steel spike.
Drive me into the girders that hold a skyscraper together.
Take red-hot rivets and fasten me into the central girders.
Larry’s way has been to be the humble spike which, unseen, holds so much of McDonogh together. He has managed millions of dollars and even given his own money to a hospitalized faculty member. He has directed departments and quietly visited bereaved employees who have lost loved ones. He has overseen campus-changing construction and sat at the bedside of a teacher who fell through the ice. So much of what we see every day is subtly Larry, and so much of who we are and who we hope our students will one day be is quietly Larry.
Sandburg’s poem ends this way:
Let me be the great nail holding a skyscraper through blue nights into white stars.
Today, McDonogh gleams against the sky and it will forever be held together by the often invisible, but no less enduring contributions of Larry Johnston.