From Doug Phelps, President and Executive Director of The Public Interest Network:
I am sad to report that Ed Johnson, Senior Vice President of The Public Interest Network and the President of Environment America, our friend and colleague, has passed.
Thirteen years ago, Ed was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer that accumulates in the bone marrow. The life expectancy for this cancer at that time was four years. Ed beat the odds in his fight with cancer, with the same grace and perseverance he displayed in his work with the PIRGs. Despite the toll taken by his disease and the treatments it required, Ed barely slowed down, rarely missing a meeting or a phone call and losing none of his passion for the causes he cared about, for the PIRG organization, for his job, for his beloved wife and partner Annie, for his boys, Augie and Louie, and for all his extended family and friends.
In 2017, Ed became President of Environment America and our 29 state environmental groups, just as the organization’s action and advocacy were winning laws committing California and other states to 100 percent renewable or zero-carbon electricity; securing bans of single-use plastic bags and polystyrene foam cups and containers in states including Maryland and Oregon; and taking the Trump administration to court for unlawful rollbacks of the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and energy efficiency standards.
Ed’s primary work for decades was as our Network’s director of outreach and citizen engagement. Over his 30-year career, he canvassed and ran citizen outreach programs in 19 states and Washington, D.C., helping to raise millions of dollars not only for PIRG and Environment America, but also for Sierra Club, Greenpeace, HRC, Save the Children and Defenders of Wildlife.
In 2003, Ed became our National Canvass Director, overseeing door-to-door and street operations. In 2007, he became national Citizen Outreach Director, managing all of our citizen outreach programs, including canvass, telephone and direct mail.
During his tenure, the Fund for the Public Interest recruited more than 5 million people to contribute money, take action, or both. It is literally the case that the PIRG movement would not exist as we know it today were it not for Ed’s leadership, commitment, and tireless work.
Also during his tenure, the Fund’s citizen outreach programs recruited, trained, and inspired thousands of staff, including hundreds who developed into current leaders and staff of not only our organization, but of dozens of other public interest and environmental groups across the United States.
Ed was not just a mentor to all these staff he worked with, but a friend. We loved Ed because he gave us everything he had—even when he was sitting in a hospital room with an IV in his arm. And he brought humor to everything he did and a smile to everyone he met.
And Ed was the quintessential glass half-full guy. When he traveled cross country by car from Minnesota to Denver for our national board meetings just this past December (because his doctor advised him not to fly, think about that), he participated in every discussion, speaking up and contributing more actively than I’d ever seen him participate. I couldn’t help but think it was because he knew, this would be the last PIRG meeting or training he would ever get to attend. And I’ll never forget his advice offered in a debate about the future of a struggling program that was on the chopping block. “Let’s give it six more months, because what I’ve found in my life, is that things are never as bad as they might seem at the time.” This from a guy who knew he had weeks, not months or years, to live.
If we ever need a reminder that remaining relentlessly positive is how people can beat the odds, whether in life or in making social change, look no further than Ed Johnson.
He’ll be missed for a long, long time.