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Nahketah Gregory Johnson led the Department of Guidance and Counseling at the old Eastern High School.
Nahketah Gregory Johnson led the Department of Guidance and Counseling at the old Eastern High School. (handout / HANDOUT)

Nahketah Gregory Johnson, a retired teacher and school counselor who for 28 years spurred on Baltimore students to achieve their greatest potential, has died of natural causes in Dakar, Senegal, where she lived with her daughter. She was 93.

Gifted with a sharp analytical mind and formidable determination, Mrs. Johnson was a force to be reckoned with, according to longtime friends.

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“Nahketah used her candor to lead the Department of Guidance and Counseling at Eastern High School,” Carolyn W. Boston, the former coordinator of guidance and placement for Baltimore City Schools, wrote in prepared obituary materials. “Her efforts served students well.”

She was born in 1926 in Knoxville, Tennessee, the second of the three daughters of Douglass and Dolly Baskerville. She grew up in the Jim Crow South, and the teenage Nahketah Baskerville followed in her parents’ footsteps and attended the historically black Knoxville College. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in teaching in 1948, according to family friend, Jeanne Saddler.

While at Knoxville College she met Clarence Gregory, a young teacher in training as impressive intellectually as she was. The couple married and lived briefly in Florida, Georgia and Alabama before settling in Baltimore in 1955.

The careers of both flourished during the next three decades, Saddler said. Clarence Gregory, who earned a Ph.D. from Columbia University, became a noted scholar of African American history and taught at Baltimore City Community College. His wife initially taught math but eventually realized that her talents would be best used as a guidance counselor.

She went back to school, earning a master’s degree in guidance and counseling from the University of Maryland, College Park in the early 1970s. As a guidance counselor, she pushed her students to excel. She retired in 1986 as director of Eastern High School’s Guidance Department.

“She was a great and sophisticated lady,” Saddler said. “She often didn’t mince words. She had high expectations of her children and grandchildren but especially of her students. She was determined to help students appreciate the hard work required for success.”

Her high standards extended to the school system itself. When her daughter, Cheryl, was in third grade, her class viewed a video of French language instructions.

“The video wasn’t very good,” Saddler said, “so Nahketah hired a French tutor for Cheryl and other students. They took French at a very high level for several years, and it sparked Cheryl’s interest in foreign affairs.”

Cheryl Gregory Faye married a young diplomat who became Senegal’s ambassador to the United Kingdom and to Canada; she is now the Peace Corps’ country director for Senegal.

Mrs. Johnson brought her drive to community service efforts that ranged from her church (a lifelong Presbyterian, she and her family first joined Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church and later Grace Presbyterian) to her neighborhood, where she was active in the Mondawmin Child Study Group and the Ashburton Neighborhood Association.

She also was known as a talented and exacting bridge player.

“Bridge is a mind sport,” Saddler said. “Computers can beat the top chess players in the world, but they can’t yet beat the world’s best bridge players. Bridge is all about strategy and advanced planning. Nahketah was very good at both and imparted those qualities to her daughter.”

After 33 years of marriage, Clarence Gregory died in 1981. His widow married Arkley Johnson. That marriage ended in divorce.

Survivors include Mrs. Johnson’s daughter, two grandchildren and a great-grandson.

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A memorial service will take place at Grace Presbyterian Church on Feb. 15.

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