Joan B. Johnson, the former longtime Islip Town clerk who was actively involved with Head Start for 50 years, has died. She was 85.
Johnson died on Saturday at her home in Great River. She is survived by her husband of 62 years, Cleveland Johnson, Jr., their four children, Keith, Genevieve, Kelly, and Cleveland III; and 11 grandchildren.
Johnson, who worked as town clerk from 1991 to 2007, was the first and only African-American to hold an elected office in Islip’s 335-year history.
“She was a role model and a mentor to so many,” Islip Supervisor Angie Carpenter said in a statement. “She was dedicated to her work in the Town, and was committed to the community and to serving its residents.”
Suffolk County Legislator Tom Cilmi remembered Johnson for both her leadership and her kindness.
“Joan was a truly special lady. Whenever I saw her, she would grab my face in between her hands and smile,” Cilmi posted on his Facebook page. “I will never forget her kindness and her support.”
Johnson’s daughter Kelly Schae noted on Facebook that her mother, initially moved to New York City from to pursue a career as a singer, but that her entire adult life became one devoted to service.
“She was an active participant in the Civil Rights Movement in Harlem during the 50’s and 60’s, and never lost sight of the importance of having a voice and fighting for what you believe in,” Schae’s post reads.
A native of West Palm Beach, Florida, Johnson earned her Masters of Social Welfare from the Stony Brook University. Committed to education, she served on the Central Islip Board Of Education, becoming vice-president during her second term. She was also an adjunct professor at the New York Institute Of Technology.
Johnson began work with the Central Islip-based Long Island Head Start Program in 1970 as a social worker. She later became director. Her dedication to education earned her many awards, including the Phi Delta Kappa Friend of Education Award and an Honorary Doctor of Civil Laws degree from Dowling College.
A wake will be held for Johnson on Wednesday and Thursday at the Frederick J. Chapey & Sons East Islip Funeral Home, 200 East Main Street, East Islip. Visitation is 2-4 p.m. and 7-9 p.m. on both days. A memorial service will be held at the funeral home at 10 a.m. on Friday, followed by a private burial.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in Joan’s name to Long Island Head Start.