ABILENE - Dr. Paul Johnson, a member of the ACU Board of Trustees since 1988, and three others were killed Monday when the twin-engine airplane they were flying in crashed near the resort town of Branson, Mo.
Johnson, a 1993 inductee into the ACU Sports Hall of Fame, was killed in the crash, as was his wife, Marcia, and their friends, Bill and Betty Roach. All four were residents of Lubbock where Johnson had been a dentist since 1960.
"We are shocked and saddened at the news of the tragic loss of Dr. Paul and Marcia Johnson," ACU president Dr. Royce Money said late Monday. "Paul was an outstanding athlete throughout his entire life, and he was a tremendous ambassador, recruiter and trustee for his alma mater. We will truly miss this outstanding Christian couple."
A 1957 graduate of ACU, Dr. Johnson graduated from the Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas in 1960. He immediately went into general practice in Lubbock where he had lived and worked until his death.
While he was at Abilene Christian, Johnson was a part of the legendary Wildcat track and field program, running on the same teams with ACU legends Bobby Morrow, James Segrest and Bill Woodhouse. Johnson just missed joining Morrow on the 1956 U.S. Olympic track and field team. He finished eighth in the 1500 meters at the 1956 U.S. Olympic Trials in Los Angeles.
Also in 1956 he was fourth in the NCAA Division I national championships at the University California-Berkeley in the 800 meters (1:50.5). He became the first Wildcat to run under 1:50 in the 800 meters when he set a then-school record of 1:49.6 as a junior in 1956.
His other outstanding performances included a then-school record of 3:51.7 in the 1500 meters. He was a member of Abilene Christian's NAIA national championship teams in 1954 and 1955, and its Gulf Coast Conference championship team in 1956. Johnson also ran on Wildcat relay teams which claimed major titles at the Texas, Kansas and Drake Relays, and he ran on the fastest mile relay team (4:15.2) in Texas in 1955.
Dr. Johnson and his wife were married in 1958 and are survived by all three of their children: two sons, Greg and Sharon Johnson and Andy and Charlene Johnson and their daughter Mary Frances Leonard and her husband, John. They are also survived by their four grandchildren: Rachel Johnson, Cayte Lynn Johnson, John Paul Leonard and Sarah Leonard.
Dr. Johnson, a native of Crowell, was a member of several professional organizations, including the Texas Dental Association and the American Dental Association. A past chairman of the executive committee of the Lubbock Children's Home, Dr. Johnson addressed professional organizations in both Australia and Italy in the 1980s.
Dr. Johnson continued to compete in track and field into his late 60s, and in 2001 he set a world record for athletes ages 65-69 when he ran the 400 meters in 60.41 to win the event at the National Masters Championship in Boston. At the same meet, he set a world record in the same age group in the 200 meters, clocking a 26.46.
Dr. Johnson was reportedly flying the six-seat Piper Seneca on Monday, and it was carrying a full load of fuel when it crashed into a building containing rental storage units near Branson, Mo.
According to the Associated Press report, the airplane took off from Point Lookout, Mo., at 12:30 p.m. Monday, and shortly after takeoff the pilot radioed that he was having difficulty with the plane and was going to try to return to the airport.
"He was trying to circle around and, in so doing, according to witnesses, the plane dropped rather quickly below the clouds and crashed into the storage units," said Jerry Adams, communications manager for the city of Branson.
The airplane was destroyed on impact, as was the building housing the storage units, said Ted Martin, division chief with the Branson Fire Department. Extinguishing the fire, which was fueled by material inside the storage units, proved difficult, he said.
Investigators from the Federal Aviation Association and the National Transportation Safety Board were expected to arrive in Branson, Mo., Tuesday.