Union Theological Seminary Mourns

In Memoriam: Michael J. Johnston

Categories: Union News


Michael J. Johnston, Former Seminary Trustee and Major Donor, Dies at 85


michael j johnston photo

We are sad to share with you that UTS former longtime Board of Trustees member, Michael “Mike” Johnston, of Gladstone, NJ, passed away peacefully at his home on January 30, surrounded by loved ones.

Over his long tenure on the board, he chaired many committees, including the Investment Committee where Union benefited from his successful career working with several financial firms, including Paine Webber and Capital Group. Retired Executive Vice President and former member of the Board of Directors for The Capital Group Companies, Mike was also a Director and one-time Chair of American Funds Distributors, Inc., a subsidiary of the Capital Group.  Prior to joining the Capital Group in 1986, he was president of Paine Webber Capital Markets, and was a director of Paine Webber Group. Mike held an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and a B.S. from the University of Kansas.

His incisive and astute presence, and his thoughtful consideration of all matters great and small – from institutional vision to nuts and bolts – broadly and enormously enhanced the workings of the Union board.  Measures that he put into place continue his legacy.

In December 2011, Mike and his wife Mary gave Union $3 million to create The Johnston Family Chair for Religion and Democracy. The chair, fully endowed upon its creation, supports scholars whose work explores the crucial role religion plays in American politics and society.  President Jones is its first incumbent.

Previously, Mike and Mary had endowed the Joseph C. Hough, Jr. / Mary and Michael Johnston Presidential Fellowship at Union. The fellowship was one of a series of fellowships established in honor of Joseph and Heidi Hough on the occasion of Joe’s retirement as Union’s 15th President on June 30, 2008.

Mike’s beloved wife, Mary Johnston, died in June 2012.

President Serene Jones shared, “Mike was a man with enormous integrity and wisdom, and his love for his family, friends, and many places of service was unsurpassed. The world has lost an exceptional leader and citizen. His incredible legacy lives on through his remarkable children and grandchildren and through all the lives he touched, including at Union.“

UTS Board Chair Cliff Hudson said, “This is a huge loss for our Union community.  Mike was a tremendous asset to our board with so many meaningful contributions that have shaped Union for generations to come. We are grateful for the ongoing service of Mike’s daughter, Ginny, on our board of trustees. Their family and friends will remain in our thoughts and prayers.”

UTS former board member Calvin Mew said, “Mike Johnston was a leader on the Board of Trustees of Union Seminary. He ably led the Investment Committee for many years and initiated the Seminary’s fossil fuel-free investment policy. He served in many other important roles on the board, including as chair of the Presidential Search Committee that brought President Serene Jones to Union. I valued our friendship and will miss him dearly.”

Here is Michael’s obituary and more information about services from his family.