Martha Johns, alumna and former Furman first lady, passes away at 97
Martha Ann Mauney Johns ’47 H’94, first lady of Furman University from 1976 to 1994 during her late husband John E. Johns’ tenure as president, died Tuesday evening, Sept. 12. She was 97.
Visitation will be Sunday, 3:30-5 p.m., at Mackey Funerals and Cremations, 311 Century Drive, Greenville. A funeral will be held at Furman on Monday, Sept. 18, at 11 a.m. in Daniel Chapel. The campus community is invited to attend. Rev. Tony Hopkins of First Baptist Church Greenville will officiate. A private burial will follow.
“Martha was a tireless supporter of her alma mater, as an alumna, as a first lady and as a friend,” said Furman University President Elizabeth Davis. “Everyone who knew her found her delightful, intelligent and incredibly kind. Martha and John truly served Furman together, complementing each other and helping students, faculty, staff and the Greenville community accomplish great things.”
In a 2004 oral history project video with Courtney Tollison ’99, Distinguished University Public Historian and Scholar, the Johnses discuss several key moments in the university’s history. About the separation of the university from the South Carolina Baptist Convention in the early 1990s, Martha provides dates and details, and she remembers names of key players. She was not just an ardent supporter of her husband’s presidency, she actively helped manage the situation, including engaging in crisis management.
“She was present and engaged during all of the proceedings. Her presence always mitigated challenging situations,” Tollison said recently.
“John and Martha had a synergistic approach to their leadership roles at Furman,” Tollison said. “She was as invested as he, not only in Furman’s students, faculty and staff, but also in the health and longevity of the institution, and she remained that way even after President Johns passed away. They coined the phrase ‘Furman Family,’ and both brought a warmth, familiarity and deep commitment to their responsibilities. Her sharp wit, engulfing hugs, uncommon loyalty to Furman and unfailingly generous spirit will be deeply missed.”
In a 1982 Furman Magazine article, John Johns talked about being a team with Martha. “Martha is my greatest asset,” he said. “Whenever she’s around, I know everything is taken care of.” She also had to attend to social duties. Her husband called her “the hostess of the university.”
Tom Hartness, former chairman of Furman’s Board of Trustees, told Furman Magazine, “I’ve been impressed with (Martha’s) warm and gracious manner since the first day I met her. I’ve seen Martha go in a room of strangers and in 30 seconds everyone is her friend. Martha is working all the time for Furman.”
In 1998, the university dedicated John E. Johns Hall, which houses the departments of politics and international affairs, psychology and sociology, and The Riley Institute. John Johns donated funds to dedicate the Martha Johns Seminar Room. “I figure if my name was going to be on (the building), hers ought to be a part of it, too,” Johns said. The rose garden at White Oaks, the president’s official residence, was also named for Martha.
Martha Johns was a member of several organizations, including the Furman Campus Club, the Greenville Garden Club, the Guild of the Greenville Symphony and the Carolina Youth Symphony. She helped raise funds for Furman, the American Cancer Society and many other groups.
Martha Ann Mauney was born Feb. 22, 1926, in Shelby, North Carolina. After high school, she graduated in 1945 from Mars Hill College, which was a two-year college at the time. She entered Furman in 1946, following her two older brothers’ footsteps. She met John Johns, who had returned to Furman after serving in the Army Air Corps, where he flew 35 combat missions over Europe in a B-17 bomber.
Martha majored in home economics and minored in Spanish and education. She and John, a history major, started dating right away, often spending Sundays in Hendersonville, North Carolina, for dinner and a movie. (Movie theaters in Greenville were closed on Sunday.)
The couple graduated in 1947 and married that August. That fall, they moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where John pursued graduate studies at the University of North Carolina. In the fall of 1948, they moved to DeLand, Florida, where John joined the faculty of Stetson University. He taught history and completed his doctoral degree, and the couple had three sons. In 1969, John became acting president of Stetson, and president the following year. In 1976, he and Martha were recruited to Furman, and John succeeded Gordon Blackwell as president.
Martha Ann Mauney Johns was preceded in death by John, in 2007, and a son, John E. Johns Jr., in 2009. She is survived by two sons, Steven Maxwell Johns and wife Norine, of Simpsonville; and Marcus Mauney Johns and husband George Evans, of Evansville, Indiana; daughter-in-law Tracey of Greer; three grandchildren, Evan Thomas Johns, William Mauney Johns (Brooke) and Lauren Johns Hutto (Josh); and three great-grandchildren Joshua Reeves Hutto, Briggs Sullivan Hutto and John Liam Johns.
“We could never have imagined the turns our lives have taken,” Martha Johns said in the oral history. “But we wouldn’t change a thing. It’s been wonderful.”