top of page
Geanie Johnson.jpg

In Memoriam


Dr. Geneva R. Johnson, PT, PhD, FAPTA

June 22, 1922-October 12, 2021


Her passing leaves us with sad hearts yet big smiles

as we remember how she influenced each of our lives

Geneva Richard Johnson, PT, PhD, Fellow of the American Physical Therapy Association was Born June 22, 1922, in Eunice, Louisiana and Died October12, 2021, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.


It is difficult to describe the magnitude of the impact Geneva R. Johnson had during her long and fruitful life, but we can list some of her many accomplishments that helped to prepare her to become the force for love and change that she embodied during her 99 years.


Dr. Johnson earned a Bachelor of Science degree from University of Southwestern Louisiana in health and physical education in 1942, followed by a certificate in physical therapy from the United States Army Lawson General Hospital in 1946. She later earned a Master of Arts in educational administration from the University of South Carolina in 1959 and a PhD in Higher Education Administration from the University of Pittsburgh in 1971.

Dr. Johnson began her career as a physical education teacher in 1942, followed by time as a medical assistant and a recreation worker. Having completed her physical therapy certificate program, she served from 1946 -1948 as a lieutenant in the US Army at Beaumont Army Hospital, El Paso TX. She then worked for the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis at hospitals in Iowa in response to local polio outbreaks. In 1951, she was recalled to service as a lieutenant and worked at Fitzsimons Army Hospital, Denver CO, and was promoted to captain when serving at Brooke Army Hospital, San Antonio, TX from 1953-1954. She assumed management responsibilities for physical therapy services 1954-1957 at Baylor University, where she also served as an assistant professor, and at Talmadge Memorial Hospital, Augusta GA, 1957-1959. She always saw her service in the US Army as a major contribution to her profession and her country and was equally proud of the service she provided during the devasting polio epidemics of the 1940s and 1950s.


In 1959, Dr. Johnson started a new chapter in her service to physical therapy when she joined the faculty at what was then Western Reserve University, in Cleveland OH, to found the Graduate Physical Therapy Curriculum, which provide the first master of science degree in physical therapy, and served as the role model for the move of physical therapist education to the graduate level. She remained at Case Western Reserve University until 1974, serving as assistant dean in the Frances Payne School of Nursing after the closure of the physical therapy program in 1971.


In 1974, Dr. Johnson assumed the position of associate professor and director at The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX, remaining there until 1984. During her tenure TIRR became a model for physical therapist practice based on sound research, offering the first research-oriented fellowship in physical therapy.


From 1984-1994 Dr. Johnson shared her vast knowledge of physical therapy education as an educational consultant at multiple institutions in the United States, and across the world in Canada and Jordan. She worked in Egypt over multiple visits under the aegis of Project Hope.


In 1991, Dr. Johnson and her dear friend Dr. Lynda Woodruff set out to change the world of physical therapy. They founded what was initially named, The Peach Blossom Institute, to serve as a think-thank of invited thoughtful leaders, who collectively came together to generate new ideas related to the evolution of the physical therapy profession and our educational practices. The Institute was known to provide a forum for discussion of the future of physical therapy, planning and creating those futures and developing strategies to achieve a shared aspired vision for physical therapy as a profession. The Board of Directors renamed the organization, The Physical Therapy Learning Institute (PTLI) in 2000. The organization has evolved throughout the years, yet continues to stay true to its original intention. It continues to grow and flourish as the Board offers Leadership that Challenges the Status Quo and Ignites Collaborative Change to influence physical therapy education, research and practice.  


In 1994 Dr. Johnson returned to the academy and became the founding Dean of the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the University of Mobile, in Mobile, AL. Upon the closure of that program, she again returned to her consulting role and continued from 2000 - 2014 in advising related to the development of Doctor of Physical Therapy programs around the country.


While Dr. Johnson was employed in and excelling at all these demanding positions, she also was very active professionally. She was active in leadership wherever she worked, serving in over 20 different positions for the Iowa, Texas, Georgia, and Ohio Chapters of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). These positions included the President of the Ohio Chapter, Secretary of the Iowa Chapter and Delegate from the Texas Chapter. She also served the APTA on various committees, and sections of the APTA, including Section on Administration and Section on Education. Her leadership on the Council of Physical Therapy School Directors was pivotal in moving that group forward in its own organization and in support of graduate education in physical therapy. When Dr. Johnson saw an unmet professional need, she stepped in and created groups to address the issue. She was a founding member of the Society of Behavioral Kinesiology, the Physical Therapy Directors’ Forum, Greater Houston Area, and the Physical Therapy Learning Institute, which continues today to enact her vision for physical therapy.


Dr. Johnson provided countless continuing education opportunities for her colleagues and published regularly, with over 25 articles and chapters. Many of these works were focused on improving physical therapy education and strengthening the role of physical therapy in primary care.


Dr. Johnson rightly received recognition for her leadership. She was inducted as a Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the APTA in 1983, just one year after Dr. Worthingham herself was inducted. In 1985, she presented the APTA Mary McMillan Lecture, Great Expectations: A Force in Growth and Change. These are the two highest honors given to physical therapists. She also received the APTA Lucy Blair Service Award (1983), the Army Physical Therapy Program Outstanding Alumni Award (1994) and the APTA Pauline Cerasoli Education Award (2008). Most recently her legacy was recognized by the establishment in 2014 of the Geneva R. Johnson Annual Forum on Innovation in Education, held annually at the Educational Leadership Conference.


Dr. Johnson, at the age of 95, stepped down as the President of The Physical Therapy Learning Institute (PTLI) in 2017, however, stayed active as a Board member until her death.  She never lost her zest to lead, yet decided it was time for others to step in to lead the organization. The Board continues with its mission to Challenge the Status Quo while Igniting Collaborative Change in physical therapy education, research and practice.


These details capture the basic elements of Dr. Johnson’s professional life, but they don't fully reflect Geanie as the person her family, friends, and colleagues knew. She brought passion and commitment, a belief in physical therapy as a vital health service, and a confidence that when physical therapists acted with courage and determination anything was possible to everything she did. As she herself said, “We hold the power within our heads, hands, and hearts to be whatever we dream. The horizons have no limits for us as physical therapists.”


The Family request no flowers, but donations can be made in memory of Dr Geneva R, Johnson to the non -profit organization co-founded by Dr Johnson:

Physical Therapy Learning Institute

C/O. Dr Laurie Hack PT, PhD, FAPTA

415 Gatcombe LN

Bryn Mawr, PA 19010 United States

Link to Dr. Johnson's obituary.

The Physical Therapy Learning Institute envisions the igniting of collaborative advancement to transform the health of society. We are committed to provide leadership and advocacy to challenge the societal status quo. We strongly believe that a lack of change will stifle innovation in physical therapy education, research, and practice. We support the ACAPT Statement on Racism and Systemic Inequality supporting Black Lives in Physical Therapy Education without hesitation and look forward to partnering to create a more humane and inclusive future. We invite everyone in the physical therapy community to support this effort to change this societal challenge. 

bottom of page