KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Former University of Tennessee System President Joseph E. “Joe” Johnson died Friday, according to a release from the university. He was 90 years old.
The university said Johnson worked for the University of Tennessee for more than 50 years, including serving as system president from 1990 to 1999 before returning as interim president from 2003 to 2004.
“He was groomed as president of the University while working for long-time presidents Andy Holt and Ed Boling, and he is considered the architect of the UT System structure, created in 1968. In 2014, the UT Board of Trustees presented him with its Lifetime Achievement Award,” The release said.
Johnson was well known for his popularity with the UT Alumni Association and his acumen as a fundraiser and advocate for the university.
Current UT System President Randy Boyd shared the news on social media, saying kind words about Johnson’s legacy.
“It is with a heavy heart that we mourn President Emeritus Joe Johnson. His legacy as a tireless advocate for higher education will continue to inspire generations to come. His memory will forever be etched in the history of our institution,” Boyd wrote.
East Tennessee State University Brian Noland also released a statement on Johnson’s passing, calling him a mentor and friend.
“Earlier today, the state of Tennessee lost a tremendous visionary and a pivotal leader who helped open doors of opportunity for thousands of Tennesseans,” Noland wrote. “Dr. Joe Johnson was a longtime mentor and friend who imparted valuable wisdom and guidance that I deeply cherish. He was a passionate advocate for students, an innovative policymaker, and a dedicated public servant. Through his work, he not only strengthened the University of Tennessee System but also higher education institutions and communities in every corner of our state, from Mountain City to Memphis. His legacy will yield positive impacts for generations to come.”
In addition to all of his work, while he was president, the university reached several milestones, such as its bicentennial in 1994 and the completion of the 21st-century campaign that raised $432 million in 1998. An award was even named in Johnson’s honor for UT employees to mark 50 years of service: the Joe Johnson Lifetime Service Award, which was first given out in 2013.
Chancellor Donde Plowman also remembered Johnson’s life on social media, saying:
“He has been the mentor for each one of us who has followed him in leadership positions at the university. So cheerful, so interested in others, so inspiring, such a courageous leader. The stories of Joe Johnson and the type of leader he was will live on and on.”