Lynette Johnson directed customer service for The Baltimore Sun and Tribune Publishing.
Lynette Johnson directed customer service for The Baltimore Sun and Tribune Publishing. (Handout / Baltimore Sun)

Lynette Johnson, who directed customer service for The Baltimore Sun and Tribune Publishing, died of cancer Tuesday at the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The Ellicott City resident was 46.

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"Lynette's fighting spirit was not lost on any of us who worked with her," Richard J. Daniels, publisher of The Baltimore Sun, said in an email to her colleagues. "Her positivity was infectious and her work ethic was unmatched. She was the 'go-to' for all things customer service related and always provided solutions even when it did not fall under her responsibilities."

Born Lynette Haykel in Minot, N.D., she was the daughter of Edward Haykel and Ruth Ann Bancroft.

She attended high school in Alaska, where she played softball and was a member of a drill team. She moved with her family to Maryland and was a 1987 graduate of Oakland Mills High School in Columbia. She earned a marketing degree from Towson University.

"Lynette attracted so many people. She was so generous," said her husband, Derek Johnson, a manager for Total Document Solutions. "She had a beautiful smile and beautiful eyes."

She initially worked in circulation at USA Today, joining The Baltimore Sun in 2000. As customer service manager, she supervised a team fielding phone calls about newspaper delivery issues.

"She was an energetic and positive person," said her mother, a resident of Castle Rock, Colo. "She was outgoing and she always enjoyed being with people."

Colleagues at The Sun recalled that about a decade ago, Mrs. Johnson joined a team whose members evaluated customer service operations.

She and her co-workers recommended a centralized system for Tribune print and digital subscribers. The result was an office called Tribune Publishing Shared Services.

"She was a total advocate for the customer," said Ed Reich, manager of planning and operations for Tribune Publishing in Baltimore. "She was able to empathize in every situation. Customers truly believed in her and trusted her."

"She set the tone for how we interact with customers," said Anthony Ippolito Sr., Tribune director of shared services. "She was someone who made you feel better."

"I am saddened to hear of Lynette's passing. It was our good fortune to know her personally and to have her on the team," former Baltimore Sun publisher Timothy Ryan, now publisher and CEO of the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, said in an email. "Her performance was always exceptional. ... She really cared about making things right for our customers.

"All of us were inspired by the strength and courage she showed in her ongoing battle for her health," Mr. Ryan said. "Lynette was a rare individual and will be missed very much by all who knew her at The Sun and Tribune."

Ms. Johnson was named director of Baltimore Sun Customer Service in 2007 and later took on similar responsibilities at Tribune's Morning Call newspaper in Allentown, Pa., and The Sun's commercial delivery department.

"Lynette's leadership, professionalism and admirable work ethic led to her promotion to Tribune Publishing customer service director overseeing the day-to-day operations of customer service across the entire company," Mr. Daniels said. "She embraced change and seamlessly provided the kind of leadership and support needed to move our business forward. She was deeply respected across the company and built strong relationships with those she worked with.

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"Lynette approached her job with determination, dedication and with a smile that seemed to always be present," he said.

Mr. Daniels announced that The Sun has created a Lynette Johnson Award of Excellence in Customer Service. A memorial fund has also been created in her name at the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Services for Ms. Johnson will be held at 2 p.m. Monday at Harry H. Witzke's Family Funeral Home, 4112 Old Columbia Pike in Ellicott City. A visitation from noon to 2 p.m. precedes the funeral.

In addition to her parents and husband of nearly 20 years, survivors include a son, Austin Taylor Johnson of Ellicott City; a stepson, Ryan Johnson of Prince Frederick; two stepdaughters, Amber Johnson, also of Prince Frederick, and Lauren Withrow of Columbia; two sisters, Lori Ahlstrand of American Canyon, Calif., and Lisa Brown of Castle Rock, Colo.; a stepbrother, Donald Harvey of Houston; a stepsister, Sheri Bowden of Sandy, Utah; and two step-grandchildren. Her stepfather, Donald Harvey, died in 2010.

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