In memoriam: Robert Johnson, professor emeritus

Dr. Robert L. Johnson Jr., professor emeritus of internal medicine at UT Southwestern and one of the nation’s top researchers in pulmonary medicine, died Jan. 4 at his home in Farmers Branch. He was 84.

Dr. Johnson was widely recognized for his investigation of cardiopulmonary interaction, high altitude pulmonary adaptation and compensatory lung growth. He often put his hypotheses to a personal test, such as checking his blood for signs of mountain sickness while skiing.

His academic career spanned more than 50 years and was marked by continuous National Institutes of Health funding — a highly unusual achievement — and international collaborations.

“His contributions place him among the foremost pulmonary physiologists in the country,” said Dr. Donald Seldin, professor and former chairman of internal medicine. “In addition to his research achievements, he was an excellent mentor to young physicians and an insightful pulmonary clinician.”

For his lifetime contributions, Dr. Johnson was honored by the American Thoracic Society in 1996 with the Recognition Award for Scientific Accomplishment and in 2009 with the Robert F. Grover Prize for outstanding contributions to the study of the effects of hypoxia and high altitude on pulmonary circulation.

After graduating from Southern Methodist University, Dr. Johnson earned his medical degree in 1951 from Northwestern Medical School in Chicago. He then completed residency and pulmonary medicine fellowship training at UT Southwestern, including serving as chief resident in 1955 at the original Parkland Hospital on Maple Avenue.

Following a research fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, he became a member of the UT Southwestern faculty in 1957.

“He was my mentor, and he taught me everything I know about pulmonary physiology,” said Dr. Connie Hsia, professor of internal medicine, who worked with Dr. Johnson for more than 20 years. “He also embodied the Southern gentleman in the best sense.

“He was an avid skier. He would ski all day at 9,000- to 11,000-foot altitudes and check his arterial blood gases before and after to see if he could induce high altitude pulmonary edema,” Dr. Hsia said. “The experience and data helped him formulate a subsequent research proposal, which was successfully funded by the NIH.”

A memorial fund is being set up toward a lectureship in Dr. Johnson’s name. Contributions may be made to the Robert L. Johnson Jr., M.D., Fund in Internal Medicine at
UT Southwestern Medical Center, P.O. Box 910888, Dallas, Texas 75391-0888.

Debbie Bolles

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Dr. Seldin holds the William Buchanan Chair in Internal Medicine.

Feb. 19-28, 2011 /