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Message on Ludwell Johnson

Provost Michael R. Halleran sent the following message to the campus community June 12, 2017 - Ed.

Dear colleagues,

I write to let you know that Ludwell Johnson, Professor of History, Emeritus, passed away on June 5, aged 90.  Ludwell “Lud” Harrison Johnson III was born in Charleston, West Virginia on March 30, 1927 and grew up in Richmond, Virginia.  He served in the Naval Reserve from 1945 to 1946.  He took his AB in History and his Ph.D. (1956) from Johns Hopkins University.  He began working at the Department of History at the College in 1955, where he was a specialist in the American Civil War.  He became Professor in 1966, and served as Chair of the Department in the halcyon days before term limits were the norm.  He was the first William E. Pullen Professor, retiring in 1992.  

He published Red River Campaign: Politics and Cotton in the Civil War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1958), and Division and Reunion: America, 1848-1877 (New York: Wiley, 1978), the latter reprinted in 1995 as North Against South: The American Iliad, 1848-1877.  He also published many scholarly articles and book reviews, most of them pertaining to 19th-century American history, especially the Civil War.  An avid historian of the Confederacy, he delighted in giving tours of the Richmond battlefields to his younger colleagues, and guest lecturing on the subject in their classes.  Known for his readiness to join battle for causes he believed in passionately, whether in his own field of research, in matters of higher education, or in those related to the running of the College, Professor Johnson took on fellow historians, administrators, and, possibly apocryphally, even former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.  Although strongly identified with Southern history, he exercised his strong leadership as Chair of the History Department to oversee an expansion of new history faculty, notably by supporting initiatives to hire in fields such as Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and helping to create the doctoral program in American history.  Under his guidance and that of other senior faculty members, Professor Johnson helped to set the History Department on the path to becoming one of the leading departments in Arts & Sciences at the College.

He was very dedicated to his students and to good teaching, and, as one of his colleagues pointed out, had no patience for grade inflation which he saw as a way of currying favor with students.  Two of his earliest students praised him for his erudition and for the life-long interest he instilled in them for all things History.  His courses were consistently praised as among the most popular at the College.  He received many awards for teaching, notably the Thomas Ashley Graves, Jr. Award for Sustained Excellence in Teaching.  He was particularly devoted to Phi Beta Kappa, and several colleagues credited him for reviving the vitality of the organization’s chapter at the College from the mid-1980s onwards.  He worked on both the organizational and fundraising sides, and was especially adept at cultivating good relationships with alumni.  As another colleague noted, his recitation of the Chapter’s history at each semester’s initiation was legendary for its dry wit and its nod towards a Southern view of the history of the College.  He continued his active support of PBK in his retirement, raising funds for student scholarships. 

Several of Professor Johnson’s former colleagues noted his fierce devotion to faculty governance at the College, and to the great faith he placed in the collective wisdom of his colleagues to take the best course of action when needed.  Although his actions did not always endear him to some College administrators at the time, his direct and thoughtful comments at faculty meetings made him a formidable advocate in keeping faculty venues as the main forum for academic policy.  He was also devoted to preserving the good health and safety of the faculty, joining with other faculty in the early ‘90s to pressure the administration to test Morton Hall (History’s home at the time) for asbestos.  It should be noted in conclusion that he received the Thomas Jefferson Award, the highest honor bestowed by the College for exemplary leadership and service, and also received a Commendation from the General Assembly of Virginia in 1997 in “admiration and gratitude for his life of service to the youth of the Commonwealth.”

Professor Johnson is survived by his wife Pamela Johnson, daughter Abigail Johnson, granddaughter Nina Johnson Waeraas, and son-in-law Arild Waeraas. 

In lieu of flowers, expressions of sympathy may be made to the Ludwell H. Scholarship, Alpha Chapter, Phi Beta Kappa, Prof. Peter McHenry, Department of Economics, College of William & Mary, P.O. Box 8795, Williamsburg, VA, 23187-8795, and to the Heritage Humane Society, 430 Waller Mill Road, Williamsburg, VA 23185.  Online condolences may be offered on  A reception will be held at Nelsen Funeral Home, 3758 Strawberry Plains Rd, Williamsburg from 5-7 pm on Friday, June 23, 2017.