As a recipient of this year’s Palm Beach County Medical Society’s 2020 Heroes in Medicine Lifetime Achievement Award, Dr. Gordon Johnson of Wellington nowadays spends his time giving back to the community while also studying the COVID-19 virus.
A pathologist with deep ties to Wellington Regional Medical Center, Johnson retired early, nearly a decade ago, to devote all his energies to unpaid work for Wellington and the wider region. During the current pandemic, that includes research work into the COVID-19 virus.
“As a pathologist, a doctor who studies diseases, it is natural that I would be interested in COVID-19,” Johnson said. “It requires between one to three hours each day for me to do research and study of the literature of therapies being used to remain current on the state of the virus.”
Much of his volunteer time over the past several months has been assisting in studying COVID-19 treatments.
“I am working with the retired physicians of the Palm Beach County Medical Society to study COVID-19 convalescent plasma for people that have had the virus,” Johnson explained. “Currently, we don’t yet know for certain that a person who has had the virus develops immunity from contracting repeated infections. It is something that needs more study.”
Johnson is one of thousands of physicians currently engaged in this type of research.
“It is a lot of time and work to stay actively involved and stay on top of the virus situation,” Johnson said. “I follow what we are finding out about the disease, such as where the research is and what we know about the tests. Some data are anecdotal results of antibody tests. There is so much that we don’t yet know.”
As the community responds to the virus emergency, Johnson is doing some consulting on sports in the village and the possibility of normalizing the resumption of basketball in Wellington. They are discussing the measures needed for the players and coaches to make sure CDC recommendations and standards are being met relative to protection, social distancing, hygiene and cleanliness, and even how to take the participants’ temperatures.
Johnson stressed that returning to daily life will require a great uptick in testing. “Testing is the key. We’ve got to test, then trace connections, then isolate those exposed. That’s the method: test, trace, isolate,” he said. “It’s a big initiative to get all this out to the community. There is a lot to be done. We are sequestered, and you think you can’t do something, but with ingenuity and hard work, you can.”
In retirement, Johnson, who will be 70 on his next birthday, spends his time in service to others.
“I am running into men and women all the time who are afraid to retire,” said Johnson, referring to one of his pet causes. “Their job defines them, and they fear they will have no purpose once they retire. ‘What do you do all day?’ they ask.”
From picking up trash along the highway, to advocating for future citizens whose maladies mean they can’t pass a traditional citizenship test, to providing transportation for oncology appointments, to consulting on cancer and other diagnoses daily, to reporting up-to-date, frequent, expert presentations to spread awareness and knowledge on COVID-19 via Zoom meetings, Johnson is busy each and every day of his “quieter” years.
“I have plenty to keep me occupied as a husband, family patriarch, father and grandfather, but I would like to provide some insight beyond this,” Johnson said. “I have managed to have a very good life. I have had some very nice positions in medicine, and now I get to do fun things. I have spent the last 10 years giving back. I work just about every day, although no one pays me in money anymore, and that’s what it is all about.”
Married for 42 years to his wife Linda, they have three sons: Gordon, a molecular biologist; Grant, a certified financial planner; and Gareth, a concert violinist.
Born in El Reno, Oklahoma, about 30 miles northwest of Oklahoma City, Johnson attended St. Louis University for his medical degree and practiced in the St. Louis area for many years.
Moving to Wellington in 2001, Johnson worked closely with Wellington Regional Medical Center. He now serves on the hospital’s board of governors.
“I also chair the tissue review and blood component utilization committee and sit on the safety committee at the hospital. Wellington Regional has a very good record on treating COVID-19,” said Johnson, who also serves on the board of the Wellington Community Foundation and is a member of the Council of Dads.
A typical week may find him providing home repairs to help seniors age in place; activities, scholarships and clothing for less fortunate children; a variety of help for veterans; and more, plus assistance in raising money to fund these activities. “I am drinking from the saucer,” Johnson said jovially. “My cup is running over.”
Johnson is also a mentor to students in elementary through post graduate school and helps facilitate large disaster relief efforts, such as the recent pledge for $2 million worth of roofing material for the Bahamas, in addition to many airplane loads already delivered.
“Today, the mentoring is done by keeping in touch by telephone,” Johnson said. “Of course, many of my activities have been preempted by the virus and the social distancing rules. So, I’ve had to look for other avenues to stay involved.”
Johnson warned people against being defined by their job, to instead make a career of helping their community, and when they retire, help their community as both vocation and avocation.
“I am promoting a lifestyle of a life well lived,” Johnson said.
Johnson himself wants to be defined as a guardian of his community’s healthcare.
“I want to be remembered for helping local students, perpetuating science, fundraising and for my efforts beyond healthcare,” he explained.
He invited fellow residents to add meaning to the “quieter” time of their lives in community service. “Come join us, it’s a start,” said Johnson, inviting people to support the Wellington Community Foundation.
To learn more about the Wellington Community Foundation, visit www.wellingtoncommunityfoundation.org. As for Johnson’s lifetime achievement award, the awards ceremony in May was postponed. It is currently scheduled for October.