Professorship Honors Namesake's Legacy

January 30, 2023 by Nathan Dennies and Beth Morgen

Richard T. and Frances W. Johnson Professorship of Neurology supports a new generation of physician-scientist leaders

Richard “Dick” Johnson, MD, arrived to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine as the Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of Neurology in 1969. Today the legacy of the late influential and internationally renowned neurologist carries on in an endowed professorship in his and his first wife’s names.

A portrait of Dr. Ellen Mowry, the Richard T. and Frances W. Johnson Professor of Neurology, wearing a white coat and smiling broadly.
Dr. Ellen Mowry is the inaugural Richard T. and Frances W. Johnson Professor of Neurology.

School of Medicine faculty member Ellen Mowry, MD, MCR, was installed as the Richard T. and Frances W. Johnson Professor of Neurology last fall. She also serves as chief medical officer for inHealth and co-director of the Johns Hopkins Multiple Sclerosis Precision Medicine Center of Excellence. She joined the faculty at Johns Hopkins in 2011.

“We have such an incredibly strong, collaborative group of faculty working on multiple sclerosis (MS) and related disorders, all of whom are so dedicated and are just as deserving of such an award,” Mowry says. “This honor represents a culmination of not only my own hard work and commitment, but also the dedication of my mentors, colleagues, family, and patients, to my growth and development and to ending MS. As the recipient of the Johnson Professorship, I hope to have as large an impact on more junior colleagues as my mentors had on me — and as the Johnsons had on their protégés.”

The late Johns Hopkins neurologist Richard Johnson and his wife Frances wear light-colored clothing as they smile and sit together with water and green trees in the background.
Dick and Fran Johnson were married for 54 years. The professorship in their names was established with leadership support from the Johnsons’ children and their respective spouses and partners.

Richard and Frances Johnson, known affectionally as Dick and Fran, were married for 54 years. Fran, who died in 2008, was a gifted teacher and writer who worked for many years in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Department of Student Affairs. Dick was one of the founding directors of the Johns Hopkins Department of Neurology, recruited by Vernon Mountcastle, the legendary founder of neuroscience, who invited Johnson to Hopkins to establish a new department with Guy McKhann, MD.

Along with Daniel Drachman, MD, these four physician scientists built the Department of Neurology and its divisions, cementing Johns Hopkins as a leader in neurology and at the forefront of many advancements that define the field today. Johnson in particular is credited with inventing the field of neurovirology — the study of viruses that infect the nervous system.

Seven members of the Johnson family stand closely on either side of Dr. Ellen Mowry, the Richard T. and Frances W. Johnson Professor of Neurology.
Dr. Ellen Mowry with the Johnson family. L to R: Rocky Meadows, Bonnie Ferguson, Carlton Johnson, Dr. Ellen Mowry, Matthew Johnson, Venus Nicolino, Erica Meadows, and David Meadows.

The Richard T. and Frances W. Johnson Professorship was established with leadership support from the Johnsons’ children and their respective spouses and partners, along with other family members. Many other family, friends, and colleagues made contributions as well.

“We wanted to establish the professorship in my parents’ names to honor their legacy and their long-term relationship with Johns Hopkins University. Both our parents held Hopkins in very high regard and our entire family has been part of the Hopkins family for decades,” Matthew Johnson, their son, says. “We hope that this professorship will carry on the tradition of our father’s research in neurovirology and recognizes those clinical researchers who embody our parents’ love of exploration.”

Dick Johnson died in 2015, and Mowry continues to follow his patients and carry on his important work. A dedicated educator, committed to mentoring and training the next generation of physician-scientists, Mowry established the Clinical Research Methodology for Inspired Neurology Residents, a monthly lecture series for Johns Hopkins neurology residents, and serves as the co-director of the neuroimmunology clinical research fellowship.

“The professorship provides the opportunity to take some academic risks — to fund an initial project, for example, to evaluate some promising but untested data that might open up a whole new avenue of thinking, or to hire a promising junior investigator who may bring new energy to the field,” Mowry says. “Many of our larger areas of research began with such ‘boosts.’ The Johnson Professorship will enable these boosts on a year-by-year basis, which makes it incredibly impactful.”

An earlier version of this story appeared on the Johns Hopkins Medicine website.

Make Your Gift

Interested in supporting experts who are advancing research in neurology?

Topics: Faculty and Staff, Friends of Johns Hopkins Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Fuel Discovery