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Major A. Johnson peacefully passed away in his Fayetteville home on Friday, August 12, 2022, four days shy of his 96th birthday. He was born in 1926, the only child of Edward and Madeleine ... Read More
Major A. Johnson peacefully passed away in his Fayetteville home on Friday, August 12, 2022, four days shy of his 96th birthday. He was born in 1926, the only child of Edward and Madeleine (Meller) Johnson of Pottawattamie Co., Iowa. Major graduated from high school in Galena, Illinois in 1944 having been accepted by the Navy for its V-12 Officer Training Program which sent him to Purdue University. After the end of World War II, he graduated from Purdue in 1948 with a BSEE degree. He then joined the General Electric Company with initial assignments at Syracuse and Buffalo, New York. He was accepted for the G.E. three-year Advanced Engineering Program, with a beginning assignment at Lynn, Massachusetts. While there, he took the most important step of his life when he met, courted, and married Elizabeth "Avis" Quigley. They moved to Schenectady, NY for the second year of his GE program and to Syracuse, NY for the third year. Most of his rotating assignments related to electronic design.
When Major finished the Advanced Engineering Program in 1951, he took a permanent assignment in what became G.E.'s Heavy Military Equipment Department. He was assistant project engineer for the production design of mortar-location radar and project engineer for an experimental Doppler radar. In 1952, they bought a lot on a country road in North Syracuse and had a modest ranch house built on it. It was completed just in time to move in when Avis gave birth to Brian, their first son. Brian was later followed by a second son, Kerry, and then by a daughter Kathleen. They soon got acquainted with new neighbors and joined a monthly rotating dinner group. They also joined three other G.E. couples in a ballroom dancing class at the Syracuse YWCA. Major continued learning on proposal and study efforts for a Navy height-finder using a phased-array antenna, and for field-army air-defense, and missile-defense radars. For fun, Major joined a G.E. 9-hole golf league that played after work on Tuesdays.
Major joined the new Advance Projects Development Section at G.E. in 1961, and became the systems engineer for an experimental MOSAR project, an ultimate analogue beamforming approach. This led to an experimental project for Bell Laboratories and was instrumental in G.E. later being awarded the PAR missile-defense radar development contract. In 1961, Major also received a Masters Degree in Electrical Engineering after years of night classes at Syracuse University. The family moved to Cazenovia in 1962.
Work at G.E. led to many travel opportunities over the years. Initially, Major used the annual July plant shutdowns for family vacation time at Upper Rideau Lake in Canada. That was followed by great vacations at Avis' brother's camp on Province Lake in NH. In 1964, a NATO Symposium in London gave the Johnson's an opportunity for a great visit to Ireland, where Avis' mother was born. In 1969, Major finished 20 years with G.E. and earned a 4-week vacation. He asked for an added 2 weeks of unpaid vacation to be added to the plant shut-down period. His boss said O.K., so the Johnson family went on a 6-week tour driving across the USA to the West Coast.
Major was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers in 1971 and became a member of the IEEE Radar Systems Panel. That year, he also went with his boss, Henry Lehmann, to Europe to visit with potential joint contractors in Germany and Italy, and also to visit the U.S.S. Springfield, the flagship of the Sixth U.S. Fleet in the Mediterranean. They sailed over to Greece on the flagship and returned to Italy on the Fleet mail plane with a carrier takeoff!!
Later, as manager of the Advance Projects Development Section, Major contributed to successful efforts on the Over-The-Horizon Radar, and a solid-state radar for the Marine Corps, which led to a continuing business in such radars for many applications. He also became responsible for the allocation of independent engineering development funds for the department, and later became a member of the Aerospace Development Council of the G.E. Aerospace Group.
In 1972, Major was scheduled to attend the annual Tri-Service Radar Symposium at the Naval Post-Graduation School in Monterey, CA. Avis went along and visited Major's two aunts and a cousin while Major attended the sessions.
Major was named Chairman of the IEEE Radar Systems Panel in 1980. His first big event was the 2nd IEEE International Radar Conference in Washington, D.C. The second big event was a 2-week trip to China with an IEEE Radar & Microwave Theory Delegation. Four members of the Radar Panel presented talks of significant interest while in China. Major's approved talk was a description of G.E.'s solid-state radar. The tour covered visits to many appropriate cities and organizations in China.
The G.E. Steinmetz medal was awarded to Major for technical achievement in 1981. After retiring from G.E. in 1986, Major wrote and published the book, "Progress in Defense and Space", a history of G.E.'s aerospace and defense business. Major also completed many home craft projects during his career years. These included a 4-wheeled toy box painted like a refrigerated train car for his children, a record player cabinet, an 18-foot outboard motorboat, creating costumes with Avis for her cousin's grade school class program, a deck with his sons, Brian & Kerry, for Major's second Cazenovia home, a secretary desk for his daughter Kathleen's bedroom, a folding puppet stage for his grandson Ian, and numerous smaller items.
In 1990, Major and Avis moved into a house of his own design in Rochester, NH to be closer to Avis' family members. They wintered in Florida for many years. Major enjoyed playing more golf, than previously, in both places and even celebrated his 80th birthday in New Hampshire with family & friends in a surprise golf outing. In 2008, Major and Avis moved to Fayetteville, NY to be nearer to their son, Kerry & his wife, Debbie and Major's former G.E. friends. Major cared for Avis many years after her M.S. diagnosis in the 1960's, until she passed away shortly after celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary in 2014. Since that time, Major became more actively involved with the Fayetteville Senior Center's lunches, Mexican Train Dominos and Sing-Along groups. Major's 90th birthday was celebrated with Kerry & Debbie and Brian & Ian in a week-long trip to his hometown of Galena, IL, which also encompassed one of Major's high school reunions.
Major continually expressed his gratitude to all the family, friends, and organizations; being thankful for the opportunities and good timing that made his whole life enjoyable!
Major was predeceased by his wife, Avis and his daughter, Kathleen. He is survived by his two sons, Brian (Vanessa) Johnson of Woodside, CA and Kerry (Debra) Johnson of Kirkville, NY; along with grandson Ian (Crissie) Johnson and a great-granddaughter Shae Johnson of San Francisco, CA.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Major's name may be made to the Fayetteville Senior Center, 584 East Genesee Street, Fayetteville, NY 13066.
Services will be private. The family respectfully asks all who attend this service to wear face masks.
(This obituary was largely written by Major himself as he wished it to be presented.)
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