'Retired' journalism professor not taking it easy -- April 2011

Jim Johnson

Professor Emeritus Jim Johnson -- staying busy in retirement -- looks forward to publication of his sixth book. And number 7 is on the way, says his old boss, Professor Jim Patten.

By Jim Patten

Those of us who follow with delight the fantastic progress the School of Journalism has enjoyed under the leadership of Director Jacqueline Sharkey are used to good news.

Responding to her proposal, the Arizona Board of Regents elevated the former department of journalism to a school of journalism, a leap forward that puts our school at the level of some of the leading J-programs in the nation. Jacqueline has assembled a productive new super-faculty, one I believe to be as good as any in the nation and ready to compete on even terms with all of them. The school has shiny new quarters in the Marshall Building.

And more, much more, detailed in this space over the last few years.

Not as visible is another of the school’s great successes: The incredible publication record compiled by Professor Emeritus Jim Johnson. Johnson, a 1961 graduate of the department, recently received a contract for the publication of his sixth book.

He published three books before retirement in 2003 and has added two more since. His newest is now nearing publication by the University of Nebraska Press, and No. 7 is under way.

The school has had active writers and researchers in the past. And does today. Virtually all of the current faculty are focused on the publication element in their three-sided assignment of teaching, research and service. Distinguished publications are pouring from the school.

But Jim, who taught at the UofA for 24.5 years, seems not to realize that he's retired. The pages keep coming.

"I need to be productive," he says. "I just can't sit around reading a book or working out."

He doesn't play golf but needs to keep busy.

"When I get up in the morning, it's not 'What am I going to do today? It's where did I leave off yesterday and how much will I write today'?

"I think it's important that I rub a brain cell or two regularly to stave off intellectual stagnation."

The brain cells were hard at work in his first book, "One Step From the White House: The Rise and Fall of Senator William F. Knowland, " co-authored by Gayle Montgomery and published by the University of California Press in 1998.

The 362-page magnum opus was central to his promotion in 2001 to full professor. It is a biography of the former U.S. senator from California, majority leader of the Senate in the early 1950s, and publisher of the Oakland Tribune until his suicide in 1974. Jim worked as a reporter, assistant news editor and editorial writer at the Tribune from 1961 to 1978.

What drives a retired professor to spend so much time researching and writing?

"It's my hobby," he says. "I enjoy the process of researching. I meet interesting new people while doing interviews. I learn new things about a subject that interests me. And I learn something new each time about writing better."

And there's this, under "satisfaction":

"Holding the book in my hand when I'm done gives me a sense of pride."

His newest book, scheduled for publication by the University of Nebraska Press in March 2012, is "Double No-Hit: Johnny Vander Meer's Historic Night Under the Lights." It describes events in 1938 when Vander Meer, a Cincinnati Reds pitcher, pitched back-to-back no-hitters, something never done before or since. The book also examines what happened to the remainder of the left-hander's career.

Up next for Jim is book No. 7, a biography of the late Tucsonan Ted De Grazia, the acclaimed artist of the Southwest.

Because brains cells need to be rubbed together.

Johnson's other books:
• "Mo: The Life and Times of Morris K. Udall," co-authored by UofA journalism professor emeritus Donald W. Carson, published by the University of Arizona Press in 2001, a biography of veteran 30-year congressman Morris K. Udall of Arizona, his long career in the environmental movement and his ill-fated run for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination.
• "Arizona Politicians: The Noble and the Notorious," published by the University of Arizona Press in 2002, which looks at 21 Arizona politicians who gained widespread recognition for their positive as well as negative impact on the country.
• "The Wow Boys: A Coach, a Team and a Turning Point in College Football," published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2006, which describes Stanford’s undefeated 1940 season under Coach Clark Shaughnessy, who brought back the T-formation, which had an enduring impact on football.
• "The Dandy Dons: Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Phil Woolpert, and One of College Basketball’s Greatest and Most Innovative Teams," published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2009, the story of two obscure African-American players and a similarly obscure coach who gave them a chance and changed the face of college basketball when they led the University of San Francisco Dons to two national championships in 1955 and ’56.

Note: Jim Patten retired from the UA in 2002 after nearly 20 years with the journalism department, including 10 as department head. He worked at newspapers throughout the country, including the Des Moines Register, Omaha World-Herald and Philadelphia Inquirer.