Dr. Alex F. Johnson, the MGH Institute's first provost, is lauded during a heartfelt tribute event for leading the school's extensive expansion of academics and research during his 14-year tenure.
Tears, laughter, gratefulness, funny stories, and the recognition that it was the end of an era - just some of the sentiments and emotions present last night as MGH Institute of Health Professions community gathered to say goodbye to the retiring Dr. Alex. F. Johnson, the only provost in the Institute’s history.
More than 200 staff and faculty packed the conference room at 1 Constitution Wharf for hors d'oeuvres, drinks, well-wishes, and testimonials from those who have worked with Johnson during his 14-year tenure.
“I look around the room and I think of everyone I’ve had the pleasure of working with, spending time with and learning from,” said Johnson during remarks to the crowd of well-wishers. “And it chokes me up because I value it so much. All I can say is thank you so much.”
During the two-hour gathering, President Paula Milone-Nuzzo compared what the Institute used to be when he arrived to the built-out and expanding academic center it is today.
“So few of us can say we’ve made such transformational change, but that’s exactly what Alex has done,” said Milone-Nuzzo, noting the many contributions Johnson has made to the IHP over the past 14 years. “He can look back and know he has made an impact that will last for years.”
As Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Johnson’s impact has been immense. During his tenure, the MGH Institute established three schools (Nursing, Health & Rehabilitation Sciences, Health Care Leadership), doubled enrollment, added new programs (including the recently added master’s degrees in Health Administration, Healthcare Data Analytics, Leadership in Nursing Education, and Leadership in Nursing Administration), and saw dramatic expansion in research dollars - from a $750,000 portfolio in 2011 to almost $30 million in grants today.
Dr. Milone-Nuzzo introduced a beautiful painting of Johnson and said it would hang in the soon-to-be dedicated Alex F. Johnson Academic Conference Room in the Shouse Building. “I will still be watching over all of you,” he said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
Director of Academic Operations Heather Anne Easter provided a tearful yet funny tribute, confessing she didn’t know much about academic affairs when she joined the new provost 14 years ago. Thanks to Johnson’s patience and guidance, Easter said she was able to grow into the job and help him make an impact.
“It’s a very emotional moment as we have gathered today to bid farewell to Alex,” said Easter as she held back tears. “If something makes you sad when it ends, it must have been pretty wonderful when it was happening. What a thing you did with it all. What a big, messy, gigantic, spectacular thing. Thank you, Alex!”
Easter then introduced an eight-minute tribute video featuring Associate Provost for Academic Affairs Peter Cahn, Chief Operating Officer Denis Stratford, Associate Provost for Interprofessional Education and Practice Mary Knab, Director of the Speech and Feeding Disorders Lab Jordan Green, Professor Emerita BA Harris, and two people from Massachusetts General Hospital: Carmen Vega-Barachowitz, Director of the Speech, Language & Swallowing Disorders and Reading Disabilities, and Gaurdia Banister, Executive Director of the Institute for Patient Care.
When Johnson took the podium, he choked up with emotion as he thanked the community for coming and noted all the work that went into the farewell party and tribute video.
“It’s hard to imagine someone deserves all of that attention,” said Johnson, who spent much of his time deflecting attention away from himself. “I’d love to take credit for PA, OT, PhD and all the other new programs but if there’s anything to celebrate it’s really the Institute and all of the hard work done by all of you.”
He reminded the community that he’s not going anywhere just yet – his final day is June 30.
“Every part of the Institute is just so spectacular,” said Johnson. “You just don’t find staff in these roles who are as committed and persistent and kind and professional as what we have here. You just don’t.”
Johnson ended his remarks by thanking his wife of 47 years, Linda, for moving around with him during his career that took them from Youngtown, OH to Cleveland to Detroit and finally to Boston.
Linda Johnson had heartfelt words for the effect the MGH Institute has had on her husband. “Thank you for being in a profession that he found that made him a delightful husband,” she said to laughter. “He loves his work and always has.
“You guys have meant so much to him and to us. We’re going to miss all of you and we’re going to miss this town. It has been wonderful. Thank you for finding him and making him happy because that’s what you’ve done.”