In Memoriam: Ed Johnson, MAS

Ed Johnson, MAS, who served as PPAI® board chair in 1995 and was previously a regional vice president at Geiger, passed away on February 15 after a long illness. He was 77.

“Ed was the chairman of the PPAI board who hired me as president in late 1995,” says Steve Slagle, CAE, past president and CEO of PPAI. “In fact, Ed called to offer me the job following a weekend of interviews with the search committee. During my first year as president in 1996, Ed finished his board tenure as immediate past chair and I got a firsthand view of Ed’s leadership style. I recall that Ed was so easily approachable, and I found that I liked him immediately. Ed was a gentleman, very generous and gracious, and truly interested in what was happening in others’ lives.”

Johnson joined the U.S. Army after high school and served in Vietnam. After his time in the military, he went to college on the GI Bill and earned a degree in industrial design from the University of Illinois-Chicago. He began his career in the industry as a graphic designer working with promotional products companies in the Chicago area. In 1973 he moved to Seattle, Washington, and joined distributor Walter W. Cribbins Company in a sales role. He rose within sales management and in 1987 purchased the San Francisco division of the company from Carl Rosenfeld. He later sold the Walter W. Cribbins Company to Geiger where he and his wife remained active. Johnson became a regional vice president at Geiger and oversaw its in-house education program until his retirement, then he continued on with Geiger in a sales capacity.

“Ed was one of the great characters—of great character—that I’ve come across in my work life,” says Gene Geiger, MAS+, co-owner and CEO of Geiger. “His interests and accomplishments were as varied as a Renaissance man. He had sensibility of an artist and the grit of a fighter. He helped elevate our industry and all those he worked with. And when I think of him, I am so appreciative I was able to know and enjoy him.”

A longtime industry volunteer, Johnson was elected to the PPAI board of directors in 1991, when the organization was operating as Specialty Advertising Association International. During his term, he was instrumental in the Association’s name change to Promotional Products Association International.

“Ed was a great friend both as a distributor customer and as a colleague on the board,” says Barry Chase, CAS, former PPAI board chair. “But above all he was a visionary who knew the future would be better than the past if we would only look ahead, not backwards, in our lives and careers.”

Prior to serving on the board of directors, Johnson also served on the PPAI Technology, Terminology & Standards Task Force, Leadership Advisory Committee, Membership Services Committee, Strategic Planning Committee and as a PPAI Ambassador. A tireless supporter of education, in 1980 Johnson and his employees donated $10,000 to the Association in Rosenfeld’s name as a birthday gift for its industry education certification program.

Slagle adds, “Ed was a very effective leader, in his quiet and typically reserved manner, because those around him had such respect for his integrity and his experience. Ed exhibited love, loyalty and dedication to the promotional products industry, which was only surpassed by his love and affection for his lovely wife Tanya and his daughters. Among Ed’s amazing gifts were his infectious sense of humor, his wry smile and twinkling eyes, and his willingness to have fun. Ed’s leadership by example, his professionalism and his respect for his colleagues will be sorely missed by all those who knew him. He truly was one of the really good guys.”

Outside of the industry, Johnson’s passion was restoring vintage automobiles. He installed a grease pit in his garage and spent countless hours rebuilding cars. In addition, he built the first pickleball court on Bainbridge Island and hosted many competitive pickleball tournaments.

“Ed was my friend and mentor,” says Cliff Quicksell, MAS+, iPROMOTEu’s director of affiliate marketing. “I had spent a few times at his home with him and his wife Tanya. I loved Ed’s calm disposition and his willingness to always share. Ed was kind enough to write the forward in my first book, I will cherish that, always remembering what an amazing guy he was. I remember sitting with him and prejudging Geiger’s Pyramid entries several years back. We had such a good time. I remember being at his home, walking through his amazing garage, looking at his amazing antique car collection, pickleball tournaments and having a glass of wine, eating wood-planked grilled salmon overlooking Puget Sound and the great conversations that would just blend into the night.”

Johnson is survived by his wife Tanya, his five children—Ericka Frink, Paula Burke, Carla Johnson, Grant Johnson and Laura Yu—eight grandchildren and one great granddaughter, and his brother Bill and family.

No services are scheduled for Johnson at this time, but the family is planning to celebrate his life with an event near his home in the spring or summer. For anyone wanting to make a contribution in his memory, the family requests donations to Holt International, the adoption agency through which his daughter Carla joined the family and an organization he supported. Holt International, 250 Country Club Road, Eugene, Oregon 97401, www.holtinternational.org.

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