Joan C. Johanson, a retired clinical social worker who had worked with the terminally ill at the Hospice of the Chesapeake and also volunteered with her church, died Oct. 29 at her Severna Park home of cardiopulmonary disease. She was 83.
She was the daughter of Irish immigrants: John Flaherty a postal employee, and Nora Flaherty, a private-duty nurse and homemaker.
Joan Catherine Flaherty was born and raised in New London, Conn., where she graduated from Williams Memorial Institute, a high school.
She was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Connecticut College for Women, obtaining a bachelor’s degree in 1955 in government.
She met her future husband, Robert Louis “Bob” Johanson, who was a student at the Coast Guard Academy in New London. They married in 1955.
During her husband’s 36-year career, during which he attained the rank of rear admiral, the couple moved 18 times. Among their residences had been two lighthouses — Hospital Point Lighthouse in Boston Harbor and the Sandy Hook Lighthouse in New Jersey.
“She was extremely fond of lighthouses and collected lighthouse artifacts,” said Nina Johanson, a daughter-in-law who lives in Catonsville.
While raising seven sons and moving with her husband’s various duty stations, Mrs. Johanson managed to earn a master’s degree in 1975 from the University of Houston.
When her husband was stationed in Kodiak, Alaska, from 1978 to 1980, Mrs. Johanson was employed as a social worker and often traveled by bush plane to remote areas to care for clients.
In the 1980s, the couple moved to Severna Park and, for four years, she worked with the elderly and terminally ill at Church Home Hospital in its home care unit and hospice.
She also worked with adolescent teenage girls in a residential and day treatment school at the Good Shepherd School in Halethorpe.
At the time of her husband’s 1991 retirement as chief of the Coast Guard’s Office of Engineering, Logistics and Development, they settled permanently in Severna Park.
“I think one of her great assets was her sense of humor, and she just had a way of seeing things in a humorous way, plus she was very intelligent,” said Sharry Foels, who knew Mrs. Johanson since 1964 and was also the wife of a Coast Guard officer.
The two women were members and volunteers of the Coast Guard Wives Club, a national organization, and worked on its newsletter. Mrs. Foels was editor and Mrs. Johanson was her assistant editor.
“At the time, she was raising seven boys, but she never skipped a beat. She just jumped right in and while her family was important to her, Joan never said ‘no,’ ” Mrs. Foels said.
“She was a whirling dervish because there was always something going on. I remember one time when she said no one was going to bed until they found a snake that got lose in her house,” she said.
“You’d go to her home in the morning and one of her boys would say they needed a dozen cookies for school and she’d bake them and have them ready before school started,” Mrs. Foels said.
Mrs. Johanson worked during the 1990s with patients at the Hospice of the Chesapeake in Pasadena before retiring in 2000.
She was a longtime communicant of St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Severna Park, where she served as head of its ministry for the sick and homebound. She was also assistant to Sister Maureen P. Kelly, a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph and its administrator.
“We worked together, and she was my assistant for 17 years. She was a wonderful, wonderful person and a gift to the church,” said Sister Maureen.
“She was most loving and had a great sense of humor and plenty of spirit. The people she cared for loved her because she was so personable and she treated them as if they were her relatives. They loved to see her come,” said Sister Maureen, who retired this year but continues to volunteer with the ministry.
“At Kris Leigh Assisted Living in Severna Park, every Thursday she’d conduct a service and brought Communion,” she said. “She was very deep in her faith. No matter what the weather was, she was in church.”
“Joan was very committed to the sick and homebound,” said Sister Linda Larsen, SSJ, current administrator.
Mrs. Johanson was a two-time cancer survivor, having endured lung cancer and non-Hodgkins lymphoma.
“She had a tracheotomy and for the last four years of her life she had to drag an oxygen tank — but she was always on the go. She continued to live and travel,” her daughter-in-law said.
For 15 years, Mrs. Johanson volunteered with Serving People Across Neighborhoods, or SPAN, a group that provides food and financial assistance to families facing utility shutoffs, court-ordred evictions or lack of access to prescription medications.
She began with the organization as an interviewer and later joined its board and worked as a fundraiser.
“It’s nice that as you age, you still can do a lot and be useful,” she told the Severna Park Voice in a 2014 interview.
She enjoyed cooking for large family gatherings and loved decorating for the holidays.
“You dare not show up for St. Patrick’s Day dinner without wearing green or she would dress or adorn you in something herself,” her daughter-in-law wrote in a profile of Mrs. Johanson.
She liked to read novels, especially murder mysteries, and followed current events, religion and history. She also enjoyed attending plays at Arena Stage and the movies with friends.
A world traveler and beach lover, she especially liked visiting Ireland, Rome, Venice, Barcelona and the Holy Land. Another favorite vacation destination, her daughter-in-law said, was the Hillsboro Inlet Lighthouse between Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton in Florida.
“She was very spirited and feisty, and would not give up on anything,” her daughter-in-law wrote. “She could discuss politics ad nauseam with anyone and always have the last word. She was fiercely independent and strong, truly a matriarch of the family.”
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at her church, 689 Ritchie Highway, at 11 a.m. Monday.
In addition to her husband of 62 years and daughter-in-law, she is survived by seven sons, Chris Johanson of Catonsville, Bob Johanson of Ellicott City, Eric Johanson of Severna Park, Kurt Johanson of Annapolis, Jeff Johanson of Victoria, Texas, Mike Johanson of Richmond, Texas, and Steve Johanson of Groveland, Mass.; a brother, Jack Flaherty of Pawcatuck, Conn.; a sister, Zita Smith of New London; 26 grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.