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Richard W. Johnston head shot.jpg

Class of 1933


For Richard W. Johnston, it was all about words. Whether he was at the University of Oregon reading books that weren’t even assigned or earning the nickname “The Blue Pencil” for his line editing at Sports Illustrated, it was the play of words—the editing—that fascinated Johnston.

Bob Creamer, a longtime colleague at Sports Illustrated remembers that “for years, Dick would edit every single piece of copy that came in.” Writers who worked with him had little need for anyone else to read their copy.

Johnston literally learned his craft in the trenches. After stints at The Register-Guard and The Portland Journal, he joined United Press International in 1939 and was sent to the Pacific in 1943, first covering Admiral Chester W. Nimitz's headquarters at Pearl Harbor.

During World War II, he reported from Pearl Harbor, the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands, Saipan, Tinian and Peleliu. He was also aboard the battleship Missouri for the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay. Johnston would later recall these experiences in "Follow Me!", the history of the Second Marine Division, which had earlier made him an honorary member of its division association.

Johnston received a Marine Corps citation for bravery in the battle of Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands and a National Headliners Club award for reporting. He was with the Army troops at Kwajalein and Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands, with the Marines at Saipan, Tinian in the Marianas, and at Peleliu in the Palau’s - where his naming of the tough terrain, "Bloody Nose Ridge" was adopted by the troops and in communiques. Johnston also covered General Douglas MacArthur's 1944 landing at Leyte in the Philippines.

In 1946, Johnston joined Time magazine becoming a foreign news writer in New York. Later he was text editor of Life magazine Picture History of World War II, author of The Airport and Its Neighbors based on a 1952 Federal Aviation Administration study, and picture editor of Elizabeth Enters, a biography of Queen Elizabeth II, written by his wife, Laurie, a reporter for The New York Times.

Mrs. Johnston, an award-winning New York Times writer, established the series in memory of her husband. The series was made possible by generous gifts from the Johnston family, George E. Jones of U.S. News and World Report, and the Correspondents Fund.

In 1953, he was asked to join a team that would create a sports magazine. As founding executive editor of Sports Illustrated, he scouted, hired editors and writers for the startup, and once SI was up and running in 1954, he oversaw the editorial voice of the publication. Today the magazine has a circulation of 3.3 million and is considered the country’s premier sports publication. 

Johnston eventually became executive editor, the number-two person at SI. In 1970, after 17 years at the magazine, he retired but continued to contribute as a freelance correspondent for several more years. He spent the last decade of his life in Honolulu.

“Dick always said that if Sports Illustrated were to make a life for itself, it had to be well-written,” Andy Crichton, a friend and SI colleague, says. “There was a special quality at the magazine in those early years, and Dick was very much responsible for that.” 

Johnston and his wife, Laurie, both 1936 UO graduates, are the namesake donors of the UO annual Johnston Lecture.  The annual Johnston Lecture brings professionals to the School of Journalism and Communication (SOJC) for thought-provoking lectures, workshops, and discussions about the thorny issues today’s journalists face.

Mr. Johnston passed away in 1981 at the age of 66.  He attended University High School that later merged with Eugene High School when the school was built in 1953.  It became “South” when North was completed in 1958.

The Johnston’s had two daughters, Dana Molle and Elisa Johnston, both of Honolulu.

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