Public memorial planned for Karen Johnson

Event is Sept. 5 at Proctors
Karen Johnson is pictured in Steinmetz Park on Aug. 20, 2018
Karen Johnson is pictured in Steinmetz Park on Aug. 20, 2018

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — Before her death, Karen Johnson suggested it would be appropriate to bring the community together. 

Now her two sons are spearheading those efforts. 

A community celebration honoring the life and legacy of the former mayor, City Council president and county legislator will be held Sept. 5 at 1 p.m. at Proctors. 

“We really see this as a celebration of the entire community,” said Eric Johnson, her son. 

The event, which is open to the public, will be led by Rabbi Matt Cutler of Congregation Gates of Heaven and Proctors CEO Phillip Morris, and will feature photos, videos and a cross-section of speakers sharing stories about Johnson’s contributions to public life. 

“We really wanted to create an open-to-all celebration,” said Kent Johnson. 

Johnson, the city’s first female mayor and member of the Schenectady County Legislature, died in June after a long illness at the age of 77.

She served as mayor from 1984 to 1992, and before that, served on the City Council, being elected in 1975. 

The location is a nod to Johnson’s love for the downtown theater. 

As a city lawmaker in 1977, Johnson played an instrumental role in preserving Proctors when the theater was threatened with demolition. Later, as the refurbished theater became a downtown centerpiece, she served as Proctors’ director of planned giving.

“Karen cared so passionately about Proctors and its role in the community,” Kent Johnson said. 

Born in Buffalo and raised in Cleveland, Johnson attended Radcliffe College and came to Schenectady in 1967 after her husband was hired by General Electric.

Kent said his mother was humble, and would routinely downplay her achievements during her five decades in public service.

“She would say she’s just a regular person,” he said.

Eric Johnson said she was also an attentive parent who never scolded and let him make his own mistakes.

“She always allowed me to make choices and observe, and maybe give guardrails to learn on my own,” he said.

Since her passing, the Johnsons said they’ve enjoyed learning how deep her connections and engagement ran across different spheres of the community.

For instance, while they were aware their mother had sponsored a scholarship at SUNY Schenectady County Community College, they were unaware of how passionate, engaged and supportive she was for that effort.

“It was absolutely remarkable to discover the ways in which she was involved and engaged,” Eric said. “There was no project too small to get her hands dirty on.”

He cited her efforts to bolster artistic programming for local adolescents and developing a capital campaign for infrastructure upgrades to the Glendale Nursing Home as key accomplishments.

“Schenectady meant everything to my Mom,” Eric said. “She’s a true daughter of Schenectady. We’re looking forward to seeing everyone next Thursday.”

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