“Absolutely Brilliant”: Family, Friends Remember COVID-19 Victim Sarah Johnson

The 81-year-old, long-time resident of Palo Alto died on April 18, 2020.

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From her earliest days growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina, it was clear that nothing was going to stand in the way of Sarah Johnson's quest for knowledge.

Not even a bit of resistance from her family.

Sarah's daughter, Lynn Hoffman, recalled a famous family story about Sarah's high school counselor showing up at her home one day announcing that Sarah should attend college. Lynn's grandfather, the story goes, responded, "She's doing no such thing. She won't get married!"

Sarah's father eventually came around and she graduated from Duke University. While that marked the end of her formal education, though, learning is something Sarah would do the rest of her life.

"She was a true omnivore when it came to learning," Lynn said. "My mom was absolutely brilliant. She was just the smartest person anyone said they knew."

Sarah married Dick Johnson in the 1960s while he was in the Navy. The two traveled the world together before settling down in Palo Alto for the next 40 years and raising two children there. She also spent time working as a teacher and a technical writer.

The Bay Area, her friends and family say, was the perfect fit for someone like Sarah: a woman passionate about making the world a better place.

"She was after truth," long-time friend Gini Bunnell said. "She searched for truth and then was able to do what she could to make it happen."

Gini said Sarah was tireless when it came to issues of social justice. "She helped the church feed the homeless. She was involved with finding sanctuary and safety for immigrants."

Sarah did all that, those who loved her say, with a unique combination of grace and strength: able to win arguments, and win over people at the very same time.

"She was so gentle and lovely and positive, all that you think of with a southern lady," Lynn said. "But also brilliant and if she perceived that something wasn’t right, good luck to you arguing that with her."

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