Concluding Thoughts

From all of the academic achievements and intuition that he brought to George Mason University; George W. Johnson is one of a kind. The fact that he brought Mason from a small college to a vast and ever-expanding university really shows what kind of person he was and what he stood for, bringing all that he could to the table. Going outside of the book and not following along with the other developing schools in close proximity, added with the university’s close proximity to D.C, was a great set-up for positive change to occur, and that it did. From an oral history referenced in a Washington Post Obituary article, Johnson is quoted as saying

“This institution was so far behind it was unbelievable. The façade looked normal. But beneath that thin veneer, it was incredibly rudimentary. That’s the great adventure. That’s what we sold. We sold nothing: We’re malleable, plastic, come in join us.” [13] In essence, these words represent his character, his mindset about Mason and its future. Although he had passed, we can still honor him and all that he has done by remembering that if it were not for him, most of the parts of George Mason that we value the most would not exist today if it were not for him being there to put them into place.

 Interestingly enough, in this obituary, Johnson presents a self-critical persona that puts down his accomplishments: “the university had been held back so long, so far, it was just ready to pop. I said … that even if an idiot had come here, this place would have taken off.” According to Ronald L. Heineman and his fellow scholars in their book titled “A New Commonwealth: 1960-2007” from pages 365 to 366, they make the point that Virginia’s economy during the 1980s was the fifth fastest growing in the entirety of the country, with a surge in technological development and centralization on the way.[14] From this knowledge, this bears the question: with Virginia heading into a period of technological development and innovation, was it only natural for George Mason University to take in this new unprecedented growth? Was Johnson right when he said that anyone could have done what he did?

[13] Shapiro, T. Rees. “George W. Johnson, College President Who Transformed GMU, Dies at 88.” Washington Post, June 3, 2017, sec. Obituaries.

[14] Heinemann, Ronald L., John G. Kolp, Anthony S. Parent, and Williaam G. Shade. "A New Commonwealth: 1960–2007." In Old Dominion, New Commonwealth: A History of Virginia, 1607–2007, 350-70. University of Virginia Press, 2007. Accessed April 1, 2020.