Andrew L.“Andy” Johnson of Chadds Ford, PA, a prominent conservationist who helped establish the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art, the Natural Lands Trust and the North American Land Trust (NALT), died Saturday morning following a brief illness. He was 83 years old.
Mr. Johnson served as the Executive Director of the Brandywine Conservancy during formative years from 1970 to 1976, where he oversaw the renovation of the old mill building that became the Brandywine River Museum, which he later managed. He then served as President of the Natural Lands Trust and the Philadelphia Conservationists from 1979 - 1988.
In 1992, after serving as a conservation consultant for conservation charities in New York, Mr. Johnson founded NALT with a mission to permanently conserve and manage open spaces with natural habitat, agricultural, historic or scenic value. Since then, NALT has protected more than 136,000 acres from development on 550 locations across the United States.
“The conservation community has lost a leader, a visionary and a friend,” said Steven Carter, NALT President. “Andy was nationally recognized for his vision, his passion for innovation and his relentless drive to counter the consumption of the natural landscape for development. He was always convinced that conservation and development could be held in balance, through innovation, hard work, and sincere concern for the needs of landowners and the environment. He truly believed in listening to the landowner and that theme carries through to our work today.”
Mr. Johnson was born on July 31, 1937, in Chicago, Illinois. His grandfather was a minister and his family expected him to enter into the ministry. However, Mr. Johnson found another calling at an early age, with the dawning of the scientific discipline of “ecology,” a concept that was new and inviting at the time.
In 1953, Mr. Johnson attended a Boy Scout Jamboree in Irvine, California, where he observed organizations dedicated to natural resources and conservation. It became his passion. In high school, Mr. Johnson studied biology and sciences. He also witnessed the conversion of natural resources to development in his home suburbs of Chicago. He forged a lifelong belief in permanent conservation of open spaces along with carefully planned, limited development.
Mr. Johnson attended Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree (A.B.) in ecology science. He later earned his Masters of Forest Science (M.F.S) from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences in New Haven, Connecticut.
Mr. Johnson was a U.S. Air Force veteran and served in San Antonio, Texas, and Chaumont, France. He was awarded the Air Force Commendation medal and rose to the rank of Captain, of which he was justly proud.
After working at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, Mr. Johnson moved his young family to Chadds Ford to accept a position at the Tri-County Conservancy of the Brandywine (now the Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art).
Mr. Johnson’s passion for protecting natural resources and his many years of conservation experience led him to establish NALT in his hometown of Chadds Ford. He was proud of his state-of-the-art planning staff that initially relied on pen and ink to create detailed maps of natural features, but soon upgraded to the latest computer technology.
During Mr. Johnson’s tenure as NALT president, the organization was able to protect more than 100,000 acres of natural resources from development in 19 states. NALT works with landowners to protect open spaces from development, using conservation easements to protect the property for future generation. Many of the projects are in areas directly in the path of development, which reflected his belief in balancing development and conservation.
Mr. Johnson in 2015 retired as President of NALT. He turned over the leadership to a new generation of conservationists, but his vision and passion remains with the organization.
That passion was on display earlier this year as NALT announced the purchase and permanent conservation of the 72-acre Brinton Run Preserve, on a site where George Washington and the Continental Army in 1777 fought the Battle of Brandywine. The project was funded with federal, state, county and municipal grants and private grants and donations, coordinated by NALT. By opening the 72 acres to the public, NALT will be preserving for future generations one of the most important unprotected tracts in the Delaware Valley.
Mr. Johnson is survived by his wife, Elizabeth (Beth) of 53 years; their daughter, Kristina Johnson (Zac Taschdjian) of Walnut Creek, CA; their son, Eric of Orlando, FL; two grandchildren, and his sister Paula Dalpos (Tony) of Lexington, KY.
The family is planning a private memorial service. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to the North American Land Trust, PO Box 467, Chadds Ford, PA 19317.