In memory of
JOHNSON--Elizabeth Ross. Known to her friends as Libet, Elizabeth Ross Johnson passed away at her home in New York City on June 3rd after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's Disease. She was 66. Libet was born in New Brunswick, NJ, to Betty Wold Johnson and Robert Wood Johnson, Jr. Her grandfather was General Robert Wood Johnson, who built his family's regional medical supply firm into the worldwide pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson. Libet, along with her four brothers, was raised in Princeton, NJ. As a young girl, she attended Miss Fine's School and was a champion dressage rider and avid photographer. Always one to blaze her own trail, she left her studies at Sarah Lawrence College to explore the world, beginning a lifetime of individualistic and adventurous choices. The '60s and '70s saw her driving up to Alaska in her Econoline van to work as a reporter for the Tundra Times, living alone in a cabin with no electricity or running water; getting tear-gassed at a Jimi Hendrix concert; becoming the proprietor of the Blue Hill Inn in Blue Hill, Maine; and opening a folk-art gallery in New York, the city which would become her home for the rest of her life. It was here that her apartment would be dubbed "Studio 67" and a legacy of wild and wonderful gatherings would ensue. Whether it was her Christmas parties with the Salvation Army band playing carols or a simple Easter egg hunt, Libet cared deeply about spreading joy and giving her guests an experience they wouldn't soon forget. Her children fondly remember many evenings filled with music, spontaneous dancing and colorful characters. More precious to Libet, however, were the quiet nights at home. To her, the family dinner table was sacred ground, and her children knew that meals together were never to be missed. Along with her role as a mother, Libet's philanthropic endeavors were her greatest source of inspiration and expression. From her support of the early development of the Dance Theatre of Harlem to her advocacy during the AIDS crisis, from her backing of wildlife conservation in Africa to her love of the Central Park Conservancy, Libet believed in the importance of being of service. She lived by the credo that when you were given much, you had a duty to give a great deal in return. This was never more apparent than in her work in Cambodia. She first took a trip to the country in the early 2000s and was so affected by the plight of the orphaned children there that she set about creating the organization Sovann Komar, or "Golden Children." In Libet's own words, the mission of this nonprofit was "to create an environment that provides a safe, nurturing home where orphaned and abandoned children can develop - physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually - to their fullest potential." A new village on the Mekong River was established to house a group of children and the Cambodian foster couples who took them in as part of the program. This model has become a case study for many other similar projects around the world. Libet was realistic about the challenges of working on a nonprofit so far from home and cognizant that she did not come from an aid work background, but her grit coupled with an amazing team on the ground helped Sovann Komar flourish. The original children taken in are now healthy, thriving teenagers, and the village's school currently educates hundreds of local youngsters. As her illness robbed her of the ability to travel, one of Libet's regrets was not being able to visit Sovann Komar one last time to say goodbye. Recently, her five children made the trip in her honor. When Libet embraced a new experience, she did so steadfastly and with all her heart. That heart was broken a time or two, but her resilience remained until the end. She is survived by her five children, Lily, John-Lansing, Annabel, Oliver and William, and her two grandsons, Wolfgang and West. Her beloved brothers, Woody and Christopher, and her mother, Betty, were constant visitors in her final days. Though her disease stripped her of a great deal in recent years, those who loved her choose to remember her in healthier times: vibrant, yet utterly shy; lovely, if mercurial; opinionated, spontaneous and generous. She leaves behind a legacy of love. The family has held a private funeral. A memorial service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, (which Libet loved dearly), please give to the Alzheimer's Association ( alz.org ), and please visit SovannKomar.org to learn about the work she dedicated herself to and to donate to its continuation.
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