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Theodore M. Johnston Jr., retired radiologist, Army captain, dies at 86

Dr. Johnston, who came to Philadelphia to complete a residency in radiology at Hahnemann Hospital and worked at several other hospitals in the area, died Thursday, Sept. 17.

Dr. Theodore M. Johnston Jr.
Dr. Theodore M. Johnston Jr.Read moreCourtesy the Johnston Family

Theodore M. Johnston Jr., 86, of Cherry Hill, a retired physician who once worked at Hahnemann and Cooper hospitals, died Thursday, Sept. 17, from complications of a heart procedure at Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Camden.

“He was a kindhearted, humble healer who wanted to help others and make the world a better place,” Jennifer Johnston said of her father. “He was dedicated to service and family, and he was loved by so many.”

Dr. Johnston was born in 1934, in Grottoes, Va. He was the eldest of five children of Theodore and Rosa Johnston, who reared their family in Staunton, Va. It was there that Dr. Johnston graduated from Booker T. Washington High School.

“He was very industrious as a child during World War II,” his daughter said. “He made spending money by hauling ice in his wagon, and he did other jobs, like washing the windows in the local shoe store.”

Even so, he had large dreams and aspirations, she said.

Starting in childhood, she said, he wanted to study medicine, and he was inspired by his parents and an African American family physician who was a mentor and early role model for him.

After high school, Dr. Johnston enrolled at Virginia State University, where he met his future wife, Barbara Smith, in 1951 during freshman year.

Walter Tucker, a retired banker living in North Carolina, was Dr. Johnston’s college roommate.

“We called him Tim, and he had a mathematical mind where he found it effortless to deal with calculus, trigonometry and the sciences," Tucker said.

The young Theodore Johnston stood out as friendly, but a quiet, studious type when they first met.

“It was just like he had been a brother of mine all my life,” said Tucker, who was best man at the Johnstons’ wedding.

Both men were in Army ROTC. They graduated from Virginia State in 1955 and went through basic training together at Fort Benning, Ga.

Afterward, they returned to their parents’ homes in Virginia, and then met in Roanoke to set off on a cross-country road trip to meet their assigned Army units.

The two drove to San Francisco, where Dr. Johnston continued on to his post at the former Fort Ord, an Army base near Monterey, and Tucker flew to South Korea to join his unit.

In 1963, while in the Army Reserve, Dr. Johnston married his college sweetheart. They had two daughters. Their union lasted until her death in 2014.

Dr. Johnston enrolled at the Howard University College of Medicine before his honorable discharge as an Army captain in 1964, and attended classes during the day while working an overnight shift at the post office in Washington.

He completed his residency in radiology at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, where he worked for a number of years before taking jobs at several hospitals in the region.

After Hahnemann, Dr. Johnston worked at Newcomb Hospital in Vineland, N.J.; Cooper, in Camden; Warminster, in Bucks County; and the Wilmington VA Hospital.

He next joined Marsh Radiology in Vineland, from which he retired after age 70. Even then, his daughter said, he was called back to work part-time for a few years.

“He loved medicine,” Jennifer said. “He was a brilliant person who was drawn to medicine for many reasons, but mainly because it was a helping profession. He was proud he was able to continue working for as long as he did."

Dr. Johnston enjoyed travel, geography, reading, and spending time with family and friends.

In addition to his daughter, Dr. Johnston is survived by daughter Janice; a grandson; two brothers, and a number of other relatives, friends and colleagues. A son, Mark, predeceased him.

Funeral services were Friday, Sept. 25.