Carlyn Johnson, business owner, dies

Carlyn Johnson, shown in August
Carlyn Johnson, shown in August (Jed Kirschbaum, Baltimore Sun)

Carlyn Johnson, a retired marine supply and salvage business owner who was active in her South Baltimore neighborhood, died of a stroke Sept. 5 at the Gilchrist Hospice Center. She was 94.

Born Carlyn Bowers in Baltimore, she lived on Gittings Street and attended the Thomas Johnson School before her graduation from Southern High School in 1936. While in school, she continued her interest in drawing and oil painting and watercolor as a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art. As a young woman, she did fashion illustration for the old Stewart's department store.

During World War II, she worked in the defense industry for the old Koppers Co. in Southwest Baltimore. Her photo appeared in the firm's company magazine one Christmas.

After her marriage in 1951 to Gilbert "Bunky" Johnson, she helped run his maritime supply and salvage business. They salvaged wood hatch covers from vintage World War II Liberty ships, old marine heavy-link chain, anchors and buoys. Their customers included commercial fishermen and ship owners, who used the salvaged materials for maritime purposes, and restaurateurs and decorators, who sought authentic marine items for decor. She worked alongside her husband in the 1800 block of Worcester St. in Southwest Baltimore before the business was sold in 2003.

Mrs. Johnson enjoyed neighborhood activism and was a 1975 founder of the South Baltimore Improvement Committee, now the South Baltimore Neighborhood Association.

In the late 1970s, she joined other South Baltimore residents in a referendum campaign to defeat Harborplace. She donated money to the cause, which was ultimately unsuccessful.

"She was opposed to the plans as they were originally envisioned," said her daughter, Gilda Johnson, also of South Baltimore. "For democratic reasons, she believed that the voters of Baltimore had the right to make a decision."

But after Harborplace opened, she patronized it.

"She was not a poor loser," her daughter said. "So many who were in favor of Harborplace never went to it, but she embraced it."

In 2000, she joined another unsuccessful cause, the preservation of South Charles Street's Southway duckpin bowling lanes, which were later removed and their location made into apartments.

In her later years, she returned to painting and took classes at School No. 33, where her art was displayed in regional shows.

"She had a great sense of color and style," said a niece, George Shapiro of Baltimore County. "She loved fashion and coordinated her dress with her earrings and shoes. When she couldn't wear heels, she bought a wardrobe of colorful sneakers."

Family members said she remained active in the arts and kept an easel in her basement. She liked to visit shows at the Baltimore Museum of Art and often included a visit to Gertrude's restaurant.

"She had a fierce spirit that propelled her," said her niece. "Her interests kept her up to date. She was interested in the changing world community. Her curiosity in what was coming next never diminished."

Family members said that about 70 years ago, she danced at the Alcazar Ballroom on Cathedral Street. She later patronized the Captain's Table and the Millrace Tavern for dancing.

Mrs. Johnson also had a strong soprano voice. "She sang sultry pop tunes," her daughter said. "She stayed musically current to the end of her life and had a love of rock. She thought the Beatles were poets, and she adored the Stones. James Blunt became a favorite of hers, and she loved to hear him sing 'You're Beautiful.'"

Mrs. Johnson was featured in a Baltimore Sun article last month that described how she, her daughter and granddaughter had renovated an old family home and were all living together.

"It was hard for me to adjust; I preferred my old life living by myself," she said. "But now I realize that everything Gilda [her daughter] thought of for this house was the correct thing to keep me out of a nursing home. Generationally, it's very well thought out."

Services will be at 11 a.m. Friday at the Gary L. Kaufman Funeral Home, 7250 Washington Blvd. in Elkridge.

In addition to her daughter and niece, survivors include a granddaughter. Her husband of 51 years died in 2002.


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