February 24, 1913–August 19, 1995
BY GILBERT STORK
WILLIAM SUMMER JOHNSON, one of the major figures in the development of the art and science of organic synthesis in the second half of the twentieth century, was born in New Rochelle, New York, on February 24, 1913, the second child of Roy Wilder Johnson and Josephine Summer. He received his early education in New Rochelle and finished high school in Massachusetts at the Governor Dummer Academy, which his father had also attended. Bill Johnson showed himself to be a young man of many talents who spent much of his spare time in serious hobbies—from constructing radios, an activity that he mastered when barely a teenager, to developing his considerable musical ability with enough enthusiasm to provide serious competition for his school work. This did not prevent him, however, from getting very interested in chemistry at Dummer and doing well enough to receive a scholarship to be admitted to Amherst.
At Amherst, Johnson’s interest in chemistry became specifically focused on organic chemistry. Because this was the Depression, Johnson had to be totally self-supporting. He managed to survive by a combination of scholarships, menial jobs, and playing the saxophone in dance bands in the Catskills, even arranging to pay his way for a round trip to