Johnson served as system president from 1990 to 1999, and returned as interim president from 2003 to 2004.
Current UT System President Randy Boyd met Johnson thirty years ago, when they were both involved in Boy Scouts.
“I couldn’t have had a better mentor or a better friend,” Boyd said.
Now, serving in Johnson’s former role, Boyd hopes to carry on Johnson’s legacy.
“I’m hopeful that some of his skills as a listener, and his passion for the university, I’ve been able to absorb and learn from,” Boyd said.
Keith Carver met Johnson back when he a student at UT, serving as one of Johnson’s student ambassadors thirty years ago. Now, he works as the Senior Vice President for the UT Institute of Agriculture.
“Every time you were with him, you felt like you were the most important person to him that he’d been with all day,” Carver said. “He had a way of making people feel really special. He was genuine, approachable and kind.”
Johnson also impacted leaders outside of the university. U.S. Representative Tim Burchett grew up with the Johnsons in Knoxville, going to school with Johnson’s son Kent. Burchett’s mother was a teacher at Bearden High School, and taught both of Johnson’s children.
Burchett said Johnson continued to influence him as he started his political career. Burchett also encouraged Johnson to return to UT to serve as interim president in 2003.
“He knew the whole system and he knew the people and he knew what needed to happen, and he made it happen. He’s kind of one of those people that they model things after for a long time,” Burchett said.
Johnson is credited with building the UT system, which is a relationship Boyd hopes to continue.
“At the University of Tennessee under my watch, we’ve been promoting something called One UT, making us all one system, one family, but that really started with Dr. Joe,” Boyd said.
Carver said Johnson’s work at UT will be a model for others for years to come.
“I think his legacy will be pulling together the University of Tennessee system as we know it right now, pulling Memphis, Chattanooga, Martin, and Knoxville closer, creating the statewide Institute of Agriculture over 50 years ago. He truly took University of Tennessee to every county of the state, all 95 counties and I think that’s his legacy,” Carver said.