Pauline Katherine Johnson (née Jaynes) was born in Pontiac, Illinois, on December 13, 1947. Her mother, Marion Jaynes (née Jones), died when Pauline was only four years old, her sister Leah (11), and her brother Ronnie (14). Despite love from her Aunt Mamie and Uncle Dave, an abusive father further complicated her childhood. On her 18th birthday, Pauline ran away to Philadelphia to start a new life with the help of her older sister, Leah.
There, Pauline was active in the Civil Rights and later anti-Vietnam War protests, where she met and married Richard Johnson. Their only child, son Mathew, was born in 1970. When her marriage ended in 1974, Pauline raised Mathew while working full-time at the Temple University Financial Aid Office. In the summer of 1976, Pauline was getting ready for work when the left half of her body went limp, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis at age 29. With this hanging over her, Pauline managed to enroll as an undergraduate at Temple University, eventually earning her Bachelors and then Master's in Social Work.
As a social worker, Pauline was compassionate, hard-working, and selfless, led by an overall sense of optimism and a desire to help others.
When her son went to college, Pauline, then just 42, decided it was time for her own adventure and took off for Kotzebue, Alaska to work for Indian Health Services, providing service for the Qikiktagrukmiut people. Transferring from this small village to Anchorage, Alaska, Pauline served at the Alaska Native Medical Center for the next decade. There, she became a part of the Baha'i community, which gave her a spiritual and social connection in her adopted city.
In 1998, Pauline came out of remission from MS after a 20 year pause. From this point, her physical and mental health began a decline that forced her into retirement 10 years later. Following the marriage of her son to Meera Bowman-Johnson, Pauline moved back to Philadelphia in 2000. The following year she was delighted to become a grandmother for the first time with the birth of her granddaughter Jasmin, and in 2005, twins Chloe and Liam.
In 2009, Pauline joined Mathew and family in their relocation to Houston, TX. There, Pauline found a second chance at love, and entered a spiritual union with John Lotti, a fellow resident at her senior high rise. Together, they partied, hit up every fast food joint within range of public transportation, and made the most of the next couple of years before their own health issues ended their time together. In her final years, Pauline was forced to deal with worsening dementia, followed by breast cancer—which thankfully she didn't worry about because her memory didn’t allow it. Throughout her treatment, Pauline maintained her sunny disposition, infecting everyone she met with her unforgettable laugh.
Pauline K. Johnson did not have an easy life, but she did have a blessed one, and had the wisdom to see it that way.
She is survived by her son, Mathew (Meera) Johnson; her grandchildren, Jasmin, Chloe, and Liam; sister, Leah Karp; nephews, Ben (Eriko) and Alex; great-nieces, Miwa and Miriam; and a host of extended family and friends.