Michael Charles Johnston

Deceased: 2 March 2022

Under: Obituary
Michael Charles Johnston

Stratham - Michael Charles Johnston, avid cyclist and plein air artist, died peacefully at home in Stratham, New Hampshire on March 2 at the age of 75. Over the last decades of his life, Michael could be spotted on long rides along the backroads and byways of the Seacoast, pausing to capture whatever scenes caught his eye using his favorite medium, Japanese brush and ink. Michael was also a professor of communication at Southern New Hampshire University and an international consultant on visual communication for education in developing countries.

Born in Philadelphia in 1946, Michael moved to Saudi Arabia at the age of four with his parents, Carlos and Pat (Passant) Johnston. Carlos was a welding inspector with the Arabian American Oil Company (ARAMCO) and Pat was an artist, using her brushes and paints to depict the architecture, natural landscapes and people during her travels throughout the Middle East. Michael attended high school in Beirut, Lebanon and returned to the US in 1964 to enroll in Kenyon College, where he majored in drama, excelled in art and played piano with his band. After graduation, he joined the US Navy and was deployed to Vietnam, where he was assigned to teach English to Vietnamese sailors and produce radio spots with the Armed Forces Vietnam Network. In his off-duty hours, he contributed his skills in set design and acting at the Vietnamese-American Association in Saigon. There, he met and married Jean Bernard, who was teaching in Vietnam on a Fulbright exchange grant (1970-71).

After their return from Vietnam, Michael and Jean pursued careers in education, working over the years as teachers and producers of textbooks and learning materials. During this period, Michael completed a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) and then a Doctor of Education (EdD) degree in educational media at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Along the way, they were blessed by the arrival of a daughter, Alysoun in 1979 and a son, Eliot in 1983. Michael's international career path took him to Kuwait, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates, Oman Burkina Faso and Yemen. He also taught English to speakers of other languages in Portland, Oregon and video production in Lowell, Massachusetts. He sailed, accompanied by Eliot, around the world with Semester at Sea in 1997 as an instructor and mentor of student teachers in South American, Asian and African ports of call.

Michael and Jean set out on their first long distance bicycle trip in 1976, when a flare-up in the Lebanese civil war left them unable to reach the airport from their home in the mountains overlooking Beirut. Escaping over the Syrian border, they pedaled on through Turkey, Greece, Italy, and France, finally reaching their destination near Sheffield, England. Some thirty years later, they followed a lifelong dream by completing a cross-continental bicycle ride from Anacortes, Washington to Rye, New Hampshire. The trip served to raise funds for an arts school in Haiti which had been devastated by the 2010 earthquake. Along the way, Michael filled his sketchbook with images and his panniers with 'found art' objects that he transformed into a show at the New Hampshire Art Association gallery in Portsmouth that included colorful papier mache bowls and birds created by the Haitian children. He pursued his passion for art tirelessly throughout his life and also shared his love for it with his students in after school arts programs in Portsmouth and as a video instructor at Nackey S. Loeb School of Communication in Manchester.

Michael was a wonderful husband and father with a big heart, a ready ear, and a warm smile. His hugs were long and his humor, like his tears, was unabashed. He threw himself into the pleasure of the moment: savoring good food and wine, closing his eyes to sing his favorite songs, and "yakking" at length about everything from philosophy to politics to philanthropy and beyond. As everyone who knew Michael can attest, it was hard to pull him away from a party.

Michael is survived by Jean, his wife and riding partner of 50 years, daughter Alysoun Johnston, son-in-law Nathaniel Role, and granddaughter Theodora Jean Role of Clark Fork, Idaho; son Eliot Johnston and daughter-in-law Heather Corey of Kittery, Maine. He will live on in the hearts of a wide web of loving family, friends and students around the country and the world.

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