A longtime Kansas University teacher died of a heart attack Tuesday while picking up his copy of the New York Times at the Community Mercantile.
At age 74, Wallace Johnson Jr. was one of the oldest active professors at KU, where he taught one of the most popular classes at Kansas University.
"My husband loved teaching," said Diantha Johnson, Wallace Johnson's widow. "He loved teaching and researching in his chosen field."
Wallace Johnson taught, among other classes, "Myths, Legends and Folk Beliefs in East Asia," a large 200-person class that many students listed among their favorites.
"In the student evaluations, you would often see people say it's the best class they took at KU and the best professor," said Keith McMahon, chairman of the East Asian languages and cultures department.
Diantha Johnson said her husband would run into former students on the street, and they would all remember him.
The Johnsons, married for 37 years, came together almost by fate. The two met while they were students in Philadelphia in the 1950s, but went separate ways until reuniting at KU.
He came to KU to be a professor in the East Asian languages department while she taught in the classics department. They married a few years after arriving in Kansas.
"We didn't get married until we were quite old by the standards of our era," she said. "Until recently, we had a son who was in college and law school."
McMahon said Wallace Johnson was highly respected and the longest-tenured member of the department. He began teaching at KU in 1965.
"He was a very energetic presence," McMahon said. "He wanted to teach as long as he could. He enjoyed students and always had them in his office."
In a statement, KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway offered his condolences. "During his long career at KU, professor Johnson distinguished himself in his research into the legal history of China, much of which has been included in prestigious scholarly publications," Hemenway said. "He also dedicated himself to students and taught the most popular course in East Asian languages and cultures."
Wallace Johnson is survived by his wife and son, Wallace Johnson III, of Washington, D.C. No formal services will be held, but a celebration of his life will be conducted later.