By Betty Swanson
Well-known local resident George E. Johnston, 97, passed away on Aug. 29 at his home in Gold Canyon. A resident of the area since 1974, George and his late wife, Kit, were involved in many facets of the community with George serving in a number of volunteer capacities during the more than 40 years he lived here.
A native New Yorker, George Johnston worked in New York City in publication marketing and advertising for much of his professional life. He had been introduced to the Southwest as a teenager while working as a cow hand on a relative’s New Mexico Ranch, but his love for the desert and the Superstition Mountains crystallized when he and his wife visited her Aunt Caroline Lansing, one of the first settlers of King’s Ranch, during the 1950s and ‘60s.
After moving here, George was one of the founders of ADOBE in Gold Canyon and also was one of the founding members of the Superstition Area Land Trust (S.A.L.T.). A self-taught desert naturalist, he and his wife were volunteers at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum for 15 years. He was an instructor for Central Arizona College’s Elderhostel Program and a lecturer at many other podiums over the years, sharing his knowledge about the flora and fauna of the Sonoran Desert.
He served on the Pinal County Planning and Zoning Commission, sometimes as chairman, for 18 years, helping guide the growth of northwest Pinal County. He was a 25-year member of the Superstition Mountain Historical Society and served as the board president for many years, earning the title “President Emeritus,” which he proudly wore on his badge during the many years he was a daily volunteer at the Superstition Mountain Museum.
“In many ways, George was really a modern Renaissance man. He knew so much about so many things. He was a journalist, a photographer, a sketch artist, a naturalist, an amateur geologist, a painter, a writer and a self-described ‘raconteur,’ and he will be greatly missed by everyone at the museum and his many friends in the community,” said Museum Director Liz Nicklus.