History wraps the key to the future in the lessons of the past. Whether the scope encompasses the entire world or a place as comparatively small as Pine View, understanding history helps us understand ourselves. Such beliefs are what former social studies teacher Patricia “Pat” Johnston stood for. Johnston captured the history of the world in the courses she taught and collected the history of Pine View in the archives she spearheaded. Her own history lives on in the colleagues she worked with and the thousands of students she taught over her 46-year tenure at Pine View.
After a seven-year long battle with ovarian cancer, Johnston passed away May 7, 2021.
“There will never be another Mrs. Johnston. Her impact is going to be felt for a very long time,” social studies teacher and department chair Robin Melton said.
In the words of social studies teacher Christine Braun, Johnston “was a force to be reckoned with.” She stood six feet tall and had a soft voice that commanded the attention of all her students.
“Her soft voice was the single most effective classroom control object one could ever have. Everyone had to keep their mouth shut and be quiet to hear the pearls of wisdom that were coming from her,” Johnston’s daughter and Pine View alumna Eve Johnston said.
A native Chilean, Johnston spoke Spanish. Johnston’s son, Pine View alum William “Bill” Johnston, notes that though his mother was very soft-spoken in English, “whenever she spoke to people in Spanish, the volume of her voice would go up several notches.”
Johnston started working at Pine View shortly after the school’s inception and was only 22 years old when she was hired by Pine View’s first principal, John Woolever. Over the years, she taught classes like AP Art History, AP European History, World History Honors, Anthropology, and World Religions, among others.
Johnston’s vision for history courses at Pine View is still largely in place today. She is the reason behind the history course structure and hierarchy that Pine View still follows, with World History Honors being a starting class that students can use as a foundation in their continued studies. She enriched her classes with field trips to the Ringling Museum and the opera house, bridging the gap between textbooks and real life. Johnston’s work with the Ringling through her AP Art History courses led to her presenting at the National Docents Symposium and having her work incorporated into an educational program.
Through changes in administration, campus locations, and learning styles of students, Johnston adapted. Such adaptation is what led to the creation of her renowned history simulations. Some simulations took place in the classes Johnston taught; the Enlightenment Salon and the Nuremberg Trials were part of her AP European History and World History Honors courses, respectively. Johnston always played Catherine the Great in the Enlightenment Salon.
“She used to joke that she was reincarnated from Catherine the Great, and I believe it,” Braun said, smiling.
Through her work with the History Club, campus was transformed with school-wide simulations of concepts like the French and American Revolutions, the Berlin Wall, and the Renaissance.
“Other schools have sports that they’re able to rally around. Mrs. Johnston tried to find replacements for that for us, because yeah, we don’t have a homecoming or a football team, but we can come together as a community through planning and engaging events like the simulations…in her prime, they were doing them every year and they took over campus. The amount of time and preparation that went into that was extraordinary,” Pine View alumna and former Head of Archives Mira Chauhan said.
Chauhan worked alongside Johnston when volunteering with the archives. A history buff through and through, Johnston held onto items like the shovel that broke ground at the current Osprey campus and the original Pine View flag, as well as countless photographs, yearbooks, and documents. She appointed Chauhan the title Head of Archives, a position she held in her junior and senior years.
After years of existing in portables, the archives will be getting their own room in the new building. The social studies department hopes that the room will be named the “Patricia E. Johnston Archives.”
“Mrs. Johnston believed in history having the power to tell a story and preserve the past to inform our future. I think she saw the archives as a manifestation of how we preserve the history of Pine View,” Chauhan said. “Even after retiring, she was coming in all the time and working with me in the archives. It was her baby.”
Johnston’s dedication to teaching largely impacted her son, who, as a violist, now teaches young musicians.
“There’s a certain seriousness that she brought to what she did that was very student-focused. It involved doing whatever you needed to do to get through to the different types of students because not every student is going to learn the same way,” Bill Johnston said. “She was very determined to figure out whichever way a student needed to succeed. That’s been a big lesson for me as a teacher myself.”
The influence Johnston has had on her students cannot be understated. Their appreciation is evident in everything from the large number of former AP European History students that attended her annual Boxing Day parties to the GoFundMe former students used to raise $16,000 for her to travel to Paris with her family as a retirement gift.
“I can’t go anywhere without hearing, ‘You’re Mrs. Johnston’s daughter, aren’t you?’ and that’ll happen around the U.S. and sometimes around the globe,” Eve Johnston said. “GoFundMe lets you know where payments are coming from. Hers had had global reach: Seoul, London, Paris—all over the world.”
Johnston instilled in her students a love for history that many carried into the rest of their lives. Social studies teacher Jenna Molinaro sat in Johnston’s classes when she was a Pine View student. Johnston was the one who called her 18 years ago, offering her a teaching position at Pine View.
“It was so different, having called her Mrs. Johnston and then Pat. I leaned on her for inspiration in helping with the classroom, but we also became friends…she saw Pine View as family, and she brought me into the fold in an almost maternal way. She cared for everyone who was under her wing,” Molinaro said. “I’m a better scholar because of her. I’m a better teacher because of her. I’m a better mom because of her. She taught life lessons, not just classroom ones.”
Johnston’s consideration did not end with offering Molinaro a job; her dedication to Pine View’s social studies department went hand-in-hand with advocacy for her colleagues. She supported Braun’s move to teaching middle and high school courses after working as an elementary school teacher, even though Braun says others doubted her abilities. She helped Melton adjust to being the social studies department chair the year before her retirement. She made sure that social studies teacher Scott Wolfinger stayed part of the Pine View family.
“At the end of every year [when I first started working here], I was on the verge of losing my job as the newest and youngest teacher. Mrs. Johnston, as the department chair, found creative ways to keep me. She fought very hard and saved my job,” Wolfinger said. “I may not have been at Pine View without her. She made sure that I didn’t lose my position.”
Her influence exists not only in Melton’s position as department chair and Braun’s work with the archives following Johnston’s retirement, but in what Pine View itself is.
“She was original Pine View…the reason Pine View is as successful as it is, is partly due to Mrs. Johnston. There’s a handful of teachers you think of when you think of what Pine View really is, and Mrs. Johnston is one of them. She would be on the Mount Rushmore of Pine View teachers and administrators,” Wolfinger said.
Johnston lives on in the Pine View memorabilia Braun is cataloging, the simulations that are still happening in History Club, and the innumerable students she has influenced. Her history will always be inextricably linked to Pine View’s. Many are hopeful it will soon be immortalized with the archives room, something that, almost like Pine View itself, came to fruition because of her.
Celebrate Pat Johnston’s legacy in the Johnston family garden on Saturday, May 22, by RSVPing here.