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Richard T. Johnson

Portrait of Richard T. Johnson
Richard T. Johnson
Date: 1997
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 36 x 30 in.
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Richard T. Johnson


Johnson, a former neurologist at Johns Hopkins who is credited with inventing the field of neurovirology (the study of viruses that infect the nervous system), was born in Detroit. He earned his bachelor’s degree with honors at the University of Colorado Boulder in 1953 and his M.D. at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver, in 1956. After completing his internship in medicine at Stanford University Hospitals in San Francisco, he worked as a clinical pathologist in the Department of Virus Diseases at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, where his interest in the origin of viral diseases and infections of the central nervous system began. He then completed a residency and fellowship in neurology and neuropathology at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Additional teaching and research in Great Britain and Australia led to an appointment to the department of neurology at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland in 1964. From there, he was recruited to come to Johns Hopkins in 1969 to join Guy McKhann of Stanford to found Johns Hopkins' Department of Neurology.

A member of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine faculty from 1969 to 1997, Johnson served as director of the Department of Neurology from 1988 until 1997 and also had a joint appointment in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He mentored more than 55 postdoctoral fellows in virology, neurology, immunology, and neurovirology, with at least 10 of them going on to become heads of their own departments, and he served on the faculties of medical schools in Australia, Germany, Iran, Peru and Thailand.

Johnson was an expert clinician and founder of the multiple sclerosis clinic at Johns Hopkins. Patients came from all over the world with mysterious infections of the nervous system to see him. He developed a multidisciplinary laboratory group to study viruses linked to a wide variety of chronic neurological diseases. During this period, he also traveled widely overseas, establishing laboratories to study infectious diseases and teach.

During his directorship of neurology, Johnson expanded the faculty from forty to more than 100 and established new programs, including neurointensive care and epilepsy monitoring. He twice won awards for clinical teaching and was a prolific researcher, publishing more than 300 peer-reviewed articles in professional journals and book chapters, and editing ten books. He was the lone author of Viral Infections of the Nervous System, a landmark text first published in 1982.

Johnson received numerous national and international awards, including ones of which he became the first recipient. Among these were the first Association of British Neurologists Multiple Sclerosis Medal in 1986, the first Soriano Award from the World Federation of Neurology in 1993, and the first Pioneer Award from the International Society of Neurovirology in 1999. After his retirement in 1997, he served as director of the National Neuroscience Institute of Singapore and as editor of Annals of Neurology.