Paul Lewis “PJ” Johnson, 72, was born in Fargo, N.D., Aug. 17, 1948, to Robert Marshall and Elaine Barbara (Olson) Johnson.
During his childhood, he found a love of archery shooting. This sport became a favorite activity in which Paul and his father would compete. The whole family, including his mother, older brother Jim and younger sister Barbara, would travel around the United States to competitions. In 1960, at age 12, Paul became the National Junior Archery Champion. Paul graduated from Fargo North High School in 1966 and enrolled in the United States Marine Corps.
Paul was a member of 2nd Platoon, India Company, 3rd Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment during most of 1968 in Vietnam. He was the Squad Leader for the machine gun teams and served on Hill 881 South at Khe Sanh. He was discharged in 1970.
After his service with the U.S. Marine Corps, Paul moved back to Fargo to attend North Dakota State University where he earned an animal science degree. Upon completion, he moved to Pullman to begin his career at the Washington State University School of Veterinary Medicine. He spent the next 30 years as the instructional supervisor in the Veterinary and Comparative Anatomy, Pharmacology and Physiology Department, now Integrative Physiology and Neuroscience. PJ was key in establishing and managing the Worthman Anatomy Museum and provided expert oversight of the veterinary anatomy area in McCoy Hall. During this time, almost every single vet student would pass through the lab. All who were lucky enough had the occasion to write part of their story with PJ. He was just that type of person; always willing to lend a hand and share something to take along in life. He helped generations of students become veterinarians. Paul retired in 2010.
Paul also had a passion for running and horses. Throughout his career, alongside colleagues and friends, he completed thousands of miles on foot while training on the Pullman streets, country roads and Martin Stadium stairs to compete in road races, marathons and a 100-mile Western States race in Southern California. He also completed several races called Ride and Tie where he ran and rode horses with a human team member and horse team member over mountainous terrains for 30 miles or more. This became another event where family would join. On these trips, it was now Paul’s family traveling around the western coast of the U.S. and Canada.
Once Paul retired, he appeared determined to become a reclusive mountain man and create a place where he could live off the grid. However, beneath his put-on crusty demeanor, he stayed active running into his 60s (logging his 60,000th mile on his 60th birthday), riding horses and “hogs” (motorcycles), and working to preserve the 25 acres where he resided. Most of all, Paul continued nourishing relationships with his family and all the people he met throughout his life — the childhood friends, the old and new Marine Corps jarheads, the vet school students and colleagues who became friends, the running friends and any others he met along the way including, the medical treatment people that became friends even at the end.
Paul could be mistaken as a quiet, humble man; however, he always had a story to share from a past adventure as well as a prideful narrative about his son, daughter, son-in-law or most beloved grandchildren.
Paul was diagnosed with myoepithelial carcinoma in March 2020. His treatment plan was aggressive in an effort to delay this rare and rapidly growing cancer; however, after two surgeries and chemo and radiation treatments, the cancer continued to spread to his chest and lungs, ultimately sending him to rest peacefully and pain-free at home Saturday, Nov. 14, 2020. He was in the care of hospice and surrounded by his daughter’s family (Sara, husband John, and three grandchildren), as well as close friends who are like family — just as he wished.
Paul is survived by his son, Brent Johnson; daughter Sara Eisenbarth (Johnson); son-in law John Eisenbarth; and three grandchildren, Jared Eisenbarth, Gavin Eisenbarth and Ella Eisenbarth; sister Barbara Douglas (Johnson); brother-in-law David Douglas; and two nieces and their families, Miel Dotson (Silbernagel) and Coco Peterson (Silbernagel).