In Memory

Harold Paul Johnston (English Teacher)

Harold Paul Johnston

Harold Paul Johnston died Oct. 29, 2003, at age 79.

Mr. Johnston was born Sept. 21, 1924, in Pittsburgh. He served in the Army during World War II and graduated from Pennsylvania State University. An artist, writer and teacher, he moved to Lake Oswego in 1972. In 1962, he married Diana Bowerman.

Survivors include his wife; son, Paul; and one grandchild.

Remembrances to American Cancer Society. Arrangements by Autumn.

~~~The Oregonian (Portland, OR), November 10, 2003.

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05/29/12 01:19 PM #1    

Barry Steinberg

No teacher influenced me more than Mr. Johnston. His teaching style was
not dramatic or flamboyant.  When I first had him for B-10 English at
Reseda High,I thought he was a little boring. He spoke softly, so you'd
have to concentrate to hear him.  But he taught us how to organize
essays quickly and support our arguments, while assigning such
topics as: "Is War with Russia Inevitable?", "What is the Difference
Between Passivity and Feminity?"  "How is Assertiveness Different from
Aggressiveness?"  I had never done so much writing. Then there were his
"connotative" (his word) paragraph assignments, which took me a while
to understand, using words in new ways to evoke multiple meanings and
associations--often only in fragments of sentences.  Some of the best
you could almost call poetry.  Through these he taught us to use simile
and metaphor to express our feelings. I was assigned to his  Engllish
class again as an 11th grader at Taft, and we did many of the same
kinds of things, but with the repetition I began to catch on a little
more to what he was getting at--a probing beyond the surface of
things for what is authentic and true. He seemed to have a kind
of knowledge or understanding that I wanted to tap, which is probably
why as a 12th grader I took his Creative Writing class.  A group of us
gravitated to him, trying to understand what he seemed to know. We
talked to each other about him and quoted bits of his wisdom.  To this
day I still feel his influence and I'm grateful to him for awakening me
to artistic and poetic worlds I had paid no attention to until he
became my teacher.

Barry Steinberg

01/22/15 04:11 PM #2    

John Puckett

Mr. Johnston was one of the best teachers I had at Taft.  Since I eventually became an English professor teaching primarily writing classes, his example as a teacher and his knowledge of the craft of writing were extremely valuable to me.  Mr. Johnston taught us to shun cliches and sentimental writing, both great temptations for young writers.  I remember Mr. Johnston saying, "Find the opposite of the cliche."  Teaching my own writing classes in later years, I often thought of his admonitions and teaching style as worthy of emulation. 

01/23/15 03:53 PM #3    

Beth Hindley (Brokaw)

As an addendum to what Barry and John have said - while doing a clutter purge a number of years ago I came across some assignments I had written for Mr. Johnston's class.  I was stupified by how accomplished they were. The praise is for what that man was able to draw from an inexperienced, untutored teen.  He was a marvelous teacher who taught us so much and managed to impart confidence with the lessons.

Thank you Mr. Johnston.

Beth Hindley Brokaw

01/23/15 08:35 PM #4    

Curtis "Curt" Hessler

Wonderful comments here on a truly wonderful teacher and man.

I can recall only the occasional disconnected  detail -- like learning about this genius jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson, and about the poetry of Dylan Thomas -- but I will never lose the overall impression. Mr. Johnston was the most dedicated, inspiring, and wise teacher -- of any subject -- that I ever experienced )and I experienced too many of all sorts over too many years of schooling!) He was quiet, wry, and modest, but his class nonetheless was a totally transformative experience. For me, it opened up whole worlds no one had mentioned before  -- all of the humanities, the fine arts, especially music, and many the social sciences, and he did all thisby deploying only his shrewd little exercises of language and his small recommendations of things worth reading, seeing, and listening to. Miraculous educatior.


I hope Diana is reading these comments and that she is happy and well.

01/24/15 07:59 PM #5    

Maureen Quilligan (Malone)

Did Mr. Johnston make us cut out cardboard circles and print random words on them? Did we  pin the circles together so that we could spin them against each other, making different words show up in the separate boxes? Did we then write a poem that incorporated  the three or four words we had assembled in this utterly random method? This sounds like something he would try.  Such a privileging of words over emotion, memory, experience (the supposed subjects of poems) shows us that language makes us who we are.  I have just retired from  42 years teaching university students these truths about language, but I never did figure out a trick as neat as the cardboard circles.  And if it wasn't our English teacher at Taft but some other teacher who used the ruse, I compliment him (name forgotten) by remembering it was Mr. Johnston.

01/25/15 12:19 PM #6    

Janet "Jan" Tauber (Luther)


I just received all these comments about your husband's passing.  I don't know how it  I missed the announcement back in 03, but I do remember when everyone was more than a little surprised at your marriage, what with the age difference.  Obviously, it was a very successful union, and I was very glad to hear that from you when we spoke at the 50th reunion.  I really enjoyed our conversation.  It is a rarity that marriages last as long as yours, and how lucky for you that you found the right man. Not too many can say that.  I hope you are doing well and enjoying life as well as being happy and healthy.

Jan Tauber Luther.

01/26/15 01:36 PM #7    

Diana Bowerman (Johnston)

In answer to Curt's comment - yes I am reading all these posts.  I'm grateful to hear from students who appreciated and benefited from Paul's teaching.  He took it seriously, spending a lot of time and thought to devise the best ways to bring out the potential in his students, stimulate their creativity, and encourage reflection.  It's too bad he's not here to read them, but fortunately he received many thanks and affirmations from students and their parents over the years.  I thought he was a great teacher, too.  And he brought that same thoughtfulness and care to life and to marriage, so I was very lucky.  These comments remind me of that.


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