James Arthur Johnson was born in Benson, Minnesota on December 24, 1943.
Jim and I met 57 years ago in the fall of 1963 when we were both attending the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Jim was the president of the student body—an early indicator of his political prowess—and I was a law student and president of the board of publications which published the daily newspaper.
The newspaper staff was having some problems with our faculty advisor. I was meeting with Jim for the first time and told him about the problem we were having. He suggested that we speak to the Dean of Students.
Jim and I met with the Dean and after an extended discussion in which Jim was as supportive of our position as anyone could hope for, we left the meeting with an agreement. The faculty advisor would be counseled and we would go forward with the changes the newspaper staff wanted to make.
The next time we connected was in 1973. In 1972 I moved back to Minneapolis from D.C. to run Senator Mondale’s re-election campaign. In 1973, Jim began working for the Dayton Hudson Corporation as its director of public affairs. I don’t remember how we reconnected, but we became social friends.
In 1974, Senator Mondale considered running for president. Jim and I organized an exploratory committee. After several months that effort came to an end but Jim and I kept in touch.
In 1976, when Jimmy Carter selected Mondale to be his running-mate I moved to Atlanta to run Mondale operations there and Jim went on the road with Mondale.
After the election, Jim became Mondale’s Executive Assistant in the White House and I became Counsel and Deputy Chief of Staff. From then until the end of the administration, Jim spent more time with Vice President Mondale than anyone else, including members of Mondale’s family.
In 1983-1984, Mondale ran for President. Jim was the campaign manager; I was the treasurer and ran operations. For that entire campaign, Jim and I spoke almost every day between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m. and then again many times during the day. We continued those regular check-ins for the next 35 years.
After the campaign Jim continued with his various business enterprises and in 1991 became the Chairman and CEO of Fannie Mae, a position which he held through 1998.
Thereafter he served on a variety of corporate and non-profit boards. From 1996 – 2004 he served as the chairman of the Kennedy Center for the Arts where he created and endowed the Center’s Millennium Stage. Jim believed that there ought to be some performances that were free to the general public.
On the Millennium Stage, which is located in the inner lobby of the Kennedy Center, there are free performances every night of the year, open to anyone who wants to attend. I recall that when the Millennium Stage was being organized the folks at the Kennedy Center said that there would be performances every night of the year except Christmas. Jim required that there be an offering on Christmas night as well.
For all of these years since the early 1970s, Jim and I remained friends. We shared happiness-es and sadness-es. We knew we could count on each other whatever the reason or need.
James Arthur Johnson, died on October 18, 2020. I miss him.