Early bird tickets for Baltimore’s BEST party on sale now!

Doris Mae Johnson, 69, Baltimore activist


Doris Mae Johnson, a longtime Baltimore activist and volunteer who worked with several grass-roots organizations to assist the poor, died Friday of heart failure at Union Memorial Hospital. She was 69.

Mrs. Johnson, who lived in the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello community of Northeast Baltimore, also was a community liaison for William Donald Schaefer when he became mayor in 1971.

She served as Mr. Schaefer's special assistant when he became governor in 1987 and worked for Gov. Parris N. Glendening at the Department of Housing and Community Development beginning in 1995.

"She was always involved in something -- and always involved in something to help other people," said Thomas Saunders, supervisor of the community education division of the city's Community Relations Commission and a friend of Mrs. Johnson's since 1980.

"She was one of the few activists to always produce."

Mrs. Johnson founded the Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello organization (CHUM) in 1976 to provide housing and assist low-income families.

She was known throughout the community as a fighter for services for residents, taking in the needy and being a confidante for troubled youths.

"She saw everyone in the neighborhood as her children, and she cared for everyone like they were," said Cynthia Dorithan, who has lived in the community for 15 years. "She was as friendly and persuasive as she was helpful."

Former state Sen. John A. Pica Jr., whose district included Mrs. Johnson's Northeast Baltimore community, said her efforts benefited the neighborhood and its residents.

"Whenever you helped the community, Doris believed that you were helping her," Mr. Pica said.

At CHUM, Mrs. Johnson fought neighborhood crime and tried to find jobs for youths. During one 18-month period in the 1970s, she found jobs for more than 30 youths at an area McDonald's restaurant.

"I tell private employers that I will screen and pick the best candidates if they provide jobs," she said during a 1979 interview with The Evening Sun.

In the 1970s, with financial support from the National Health Services Corps, she opened the Homestead Montebello Clinic in the basement of a church at 32nd Street and The Alameda. The clinic was the area's only health center to provide medical care to everyone regardless of their ability to pay.

"She managed to get groups of doctors to give their time," said her daughter Doris A. Keaton of Baltimore. "She knew how to invigorate people and to get them to buy into the cause."

The clinic moved to the 2800 block of Kirk Ave. and, in 1996, to its current location in the 2400 block of Kirk Ave.

The facility, now called the Doris Johnson Medical Center, is one of 18 medical centers operated by the Johns Hopkins Medical Services Corp.

A lifelong Baltimore resident, Mrs. Johnson graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in the mid-1940s. She earned a bachelor's degree in political science from the former Morgan State College about 1950 and received another bachelor's degree in urban studies from the Johns Hopkins University.

In addition to CHUM, she either founded or was president of the North Central Baltimore Health Corp., the Neighborhood Design Center and Adopt-A-House, which helped people become homeowners.

She also was a city school board member, and belonged to the boards of the American Red Cross, the Baltimore City Homeowner Task Force, the former Provident Hospital, the Maryland Hospital Association and Associated Black Charities.

For more than 20 years, she belonged to St. Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic Church, 3615 Harford Road, where services are scheduled for 10 a.m. today.

The former Doris Mae Roles married Norman John Johnson in 1947; he died in 1965.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by two sons, Norman J. Johnson Jr. of Eldersburg and Weldon R. Johnson of Baltimore; two other daughters, Gwendolyn C. Wright of Owings Mills and Ismenda V. Hendrix of Baltimore; a sister, Erma Hunter of Baltimore; 16 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad