The entire Board of Trustees and staff of the Lupus Research Alliance (LRA) and Lupus Therapeutics (LT) mourn the passing of Betty Wold Johnson, one of our kindest and most generous benefactors, and beloved mother of Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson, IV, LRA’s Chairman Emeritus and the U.S. Ambassador to the UK. The family announced her passing late last week. Betty Wold Johnson lived to the wonderful age of 99 years.
Often referred to as “The First Lady of the Jets” by players, Betty Wold Johnson was renowned for her philanthropic efforts and was a long-time contributor to arts, education and healthcare initiatives in the New York and New Jersey areas. She was an extraordinary philanthropist and her charitable endeavors are almost too numerous to comprehend.
“The world has lost a truly beautiful and wonderful person. Betty was extremely personable and her incredible smiles will be missed at our many fundraising events especially our annual JETS Kickoff Luncheon. Our heartfelt sympathies and prayers go out to her two sons, Woody and Christopher, their wives and her 13 grandchildren,” noted Kenneth M. Farber, LRA President and CEO.
“We also celebrate Betty’s extraordinary passion to make a difference in lupus research to benefit her granddaughter and millions of other people dealing with this complex autoimmune disorder. During the past decade, Betty contributed more than $50 million to the LRA and for that, we are eternally grateful. Her generosity has helped advance scientific understanding and the major strides we’re now seeing in lupus research,” added Mr. Farber.
Betty Wold Johnson was raised in Minnesota and often attended Golden Gophers games with her father, Karl Christian Wold. She later married Robert Wood Johnson III, the grandson of Robert Wood Johnson I — the co-founder of Johnson & Johnson.
A strong supporter of her sons and their passions, Ms. Johnson used to refer to Jets players as her grandchildren. Football had always been part of her life as she spent some of her early years in Minnesota listening to and attending Golden Gophers games with her father Karl Christian Wold, a doctor. She later married Robert Wood Johnson and had five children with him before his death in 1970.
“To me, two of her greatest qualities were humility and approachability. Ms. Johnson was such an approachable and humble lady,” said former Jets QB Chad Pennington. “I think of Ms. Johnson as nothing but first class with how she treated people, how she carried herself and how she represented herself and her family. She understood that life was about people and having good relationships with people and through success being able to share some of that success with others.”
Ms. Johnson, who later married Douglas Bushnell in 1978, used her strength to help others.
Ms. Johnson was an annual leading supporter of the Jets Kickoff Luncheon, benefiting the Lupus Research Alliance, and was committed to our goal to free the world from lupus through the power of science. She also funded the rebuilding of Princeton Hospital and, provided aid to the homeless and programs providing mobile health services to those in need.
Betty was a devoted supporter of arts and science institutions, including the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, McCarter Theatre, the Nature Conservancy of NJ, the Liberty Science Center, the Arts Council of Princeton, the Princeton Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
“She felt the need to do so in so many areas and she leveraged her influence for good and I think that’s a message for all of us that we can all take with us — to look at where we are at life, wherever walk of life you’re in, and take that and leverage that for good for the world and the community,” noted Josh McCown, a signal-caller for the Jets in 2017-18.
In her earlier years, before her well-known charitable giving, Ms. Johnson enlisted in the Navy’s WAVE after the attack on Pearl Harbor. She was stationed in Corpus Christi, TX and helped train young fighter pilots in flight simulators at Rhode Island’s Naval Air Station.
A friend to so many people in the community, Betty Wold Johnson was once asked what her greatest pleasure was. “Life” was her resounding answer.