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Fern Smith

Dr. Kay was my advisor back in the 1970s at J.U. She was such an amazing person who led us into the education field. I worked for her many years at the Little Peoples school. There wasn't a person who didn't love Dr. Kay! You did a great job, as I just retired after 43 years in the field of education. Rest well my beautiful friend. It is an honor to have known you! <3

Margo Story

Sincere condolences to the family.....may the perpetual light shine upon Kay.

Laurye Ray

I am just one of many who had great respect and fondness for Dr. Kay. I was also privileged to be one of her MAT students at JU. She certainly left a positive mark. Our loss is heaven’s gain.

Joanne Trudick

Enjoyed traveling with you. May you rest in Peace.

Waldo Peeples

Dr. Kay Johnson was one of the best professors I had at Jacksonville University. She had a heart for teaching.

Susan Markiw

To Aunt Kay's family- I first met Aunt Kay at a oyster roast at Margaret's house some 20 years ago. She has been Aunt kay to me ever since. I would see her bringing or picking up Sally Rand to /from her her nephew's home or t many gatheerings at margaret's house. I enjoyed sitting with her at the Amelia Baptist Christmas program. She had ti great ability to "size people up" and I always enjoyed her banter. may she rest in peace with Sally Rand sipping on bourbon and waitiing the waves.

BB Wagnstrom

I will always remember how nice Kay was every time I saw her

Carrie McCannell-Scruggs

Dr. Kay will always hold a special place in my heart. I always admired her accomplishments and her wry humor. I especially will remember how sweet she was to my son when he was just a toddler. I already missing having her in the world. My love to her extended family.

Michael Love

I am sad to see this. Kay was one of the smartest people I’ve known. Prayers to Kay’s family, friends and former co-workers.

Mary Kathleen "Kay" Johnson, PhD


Mary Kathleen Johnson, PhD, passed away peacefully at her home on Fernandina Beach on April 5, 2023. She was the daughter of the late Harry Downes Johnson and Edith Hines Johnson, arriving into this world on August 5, 1932. Kay loved tracing and sharing her paternal family heritage that leads back through the Johnson and Downes family harbor pilots of Fernandina Beach, to the Downes and Bernardey families of Cumberland Island, including the original Plum Orchard mansion and High Point residences, with ancestory leading back to Jekyll Island.

“Doctor Kay” as she was affectionately known by family, friends, and associates, was born and raised in Fernandina Beach, graduating from Fernandina High School in 1950. She earned her B.A. in English and M.A. in elementary education at Stanford University and attended two summer sessions at the University Elementary School at UCLA. She then left California to teach in the Dade County Public School system and at the West Laboratory School at the University of Miami. In 1965, she joined the education faculty at Jacksonville University. While teaching at Jacksonville University she began work on her doctorate at Florida State University, earning her degree in 1972.

In 1973 she started a small summer class at JU with nine, 4-year old children offering elementary education teachers and students an opportunity to work with younger children. With the financial support from Bud Smith and his wife Wilma (the school’s namesake) it soon grew into “Wilma’s Little People’s School” at the center of JU’s campus. Today it serves 55 students annually, having served nearly 2,000 preschool students, and countless JU students and area teachers since its inception. It will celebrate its 50th year of operation next month.

During her career at JU she led or assisted with sixteen summer trips for student studies abroad in British primary schools and taught summer classes in Switzerland and Newfoundland. She served as chair and a member of the Southern Association for College and Schools evaluation teams for many years. Locally, she was on the Board of Directors of St. Andrews Episcopal Day School, Child Guidance Board, the Duval County Commission for Children with Special Needs, the Gateway Girl Scout Council, the Duval Magnet School Advisory Board, and many more. Her positions at JU included Professor of Elementary and Early Childhood Education, Senior Executive Director of Wilma’s Little People’s School, and Director of Student Teaching.

A few of her many awards and memberships included 1984 Professor of the Year Award, 1983 Florida Times Union Eve award for Education, 2002 recipient of the Faculty Excellence in Community Service Award, and introduction into the Fernandina Beach High School Hall of Fame. She was a member of Phi Delta Kappa, Delta Kappa Gamma, Omicron Delta Kappa, Kappa Delta Pi, and Phi Kappa Phi. Personal affiliations included member and liturgist of the Memorial Methodist Church Fernandina, Duncan Lamont Clinch Historical Society, Cumberland Island Historical Society, Fernandina Beach High School Foundation, and served as a special advisor for the Lamb’s Early Education Center.

On the lighter side, true to her teaching profession, Doctor Kay (prior to the Fernandina population influx) even ran her own “Bosque Bello School of Driving” for her young cousins. The course required “driving on narrow roads, executing sharp turns without knocking over flowers or monuments, and making respectful stops at designated places”. Successful completion came with a certificate signed by the Instructor, Director and Professor Emeritus, herself.

“Doctor Kay” retired from Jacksonville University in 2001 after 35 years of employment and over 40 years in the education field. In 2004, she was recognized with JU’s highest honor –the Integritas Vitae medal. It is presented to “those individuals who by example of their lives have contributed significantly to the improvement of society through their generosity in service to the community”. Following her retirement, she remained actively involved in Wilma’s Little People’s School and in local organizations.

She is survived by her cousins Michael Pikula, Colonel US Air Force, Ret. (Mary), Stewart Pikula, Byron Pikula (Valarie), Margaret Scott (Mitchell), all of Fernandina Beach, Jimmy Stewart (Joy) of Bloutstown, Florida, Daniel Stewart, Colonel, US Army, Ret. (DeLane) of Titus, Alabama, Harry Stewart (Jennifer) of Huffman, Texas, Margaret Allen Courtney (Carlton) of Roanoke, Virginia, numerous other cousins, and countless friends and associates in the education field.

The family will receive friends at 1:00pm Friday, April 14 at Oxley-Heard Funeral Home. A service will be held at 2:00pm in the chapel, with burial following in Bosque Bello Cemetery. Rather than flowers, donations may be made in her honor to Wilma’s Little People’s School, Jacksonville University, 2800 University Blvd. N., Jacksonville, FL 32211.

And now she knows if Heaven offers “beautiful beaches, oysters, lottery tickets, and cocktails”. May God bless her sweet soul.

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