Kenneth Johnson passed away suddenly and tragically on June 21, 2015, at the age of 69. As he had done many times in recent years, Ken was on a solo field trip to document and photograph remote rock art sites. While on a rough dirt road in Davis Canyon, just outside of Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, his vehicle became stuck in sand. While attempting to dig out his vehicle, Ken apparently suffered a fatal heart attack. When the authorities found him six days later, he was sitting under a nearby tree with his shovel still in his hands. Therefore it’s assumed he passed quickly and peacefully.
Ken was a Renaissance man in its truest sense (" An outstandingly versatile, well-rounded person. The expression alludes to such Renaissance figures as Leonardo da Vinci, who performed brilliantly in many different fields."). He was a soldier who served multiple combat tours in Vietnam and ultimately rose to the rank of Colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was also a brilliant man with multiple advanced degrees who wore many caps in his post-military years, including lawyer, author of papers and books, teacher, speaker, consultant, businessman, and in his final years, rock art buff extraordinaire. Through all of these, he was an advocate for ethics and the exercise of personal and public responsibility. These included Organizational Ethics for government and the private sector, Strategies for Responsible Business, and most recently, Popular Stewardship for the preservation of our cultural resources.
Just before his death, Ken had formed the Steven Wallace Johnson Center for Popular Stewardship to advocate for his beloved rock art sites. The Center is named for Ken’s brother, Steve Wallace Johnson, who died tragically in 2013 under similar circumstances. Both men were off adventuring alone in the desert, each vigorously pursuing his respective passion until the very end.
Ken Johnson had stated, “The Center’s … purpose is to foster a sense of Popular Stewardship — the idea that private citizens, including … tourists, have an inherent responsibility to do what they can to understand, appreciate, and preserve our natural and cultural resources. Abdicating personal responsibility to often distant politicians and agency employees … is not an option. We need to see ourselves as popular stewards or stewards-at-large.”
Ken’s passing is not only a loss to his family and friends but to the world in general, which sorely needs more men like Ken who throughout his life had the courage to stand up and be counted for what he believed in.