Remembering Alex Johnston
On July 17, 2018, Alex Johnston, Washington STEM’s passionate, talented, and driven Chief Development Officer, passed away suddenly. Alex collapsed while dipnetting for salmon on the banks of the Kenai River in Alaska, one of her favorite activities, and we are told her death was instant and without pain.
In Alex’s own words: “I grew up in Alaska and love to fish and I’m never happier than when I’m on an Alaskan fishing stream even if it is rainy and cold. One of my favorite spots is the Kenai River during sockeye dipnetting season. The beach becomes a melting pot of cultures from native Alaskans and Hawaiians to Asians and Russian Orthodox all coming together to celebrate the harvest.”
The staff of Washington STEM feel the loss of Alex in our work lives profoundly, and our hearts go out to Alex’s friends and family and to her husband, Tony Wright. We also want to honor and acknowledge just a few of the many contributions Alex made during her four-year tenure at Washington STEM.
Alex was a leader. As the Chief Development Officer of Washington STEM, Alex raised literally millions of dollars to support efforts to advance STEM education so that young people – particularly youth of color, girls and young women, and youth from low-income and rural communities – have a solid start on the pathway to success in postsecondary education, career, and life.
As Alex herself stated: “I excelled at math and science as a young girl, yet typically ended up pursuing a social science degree. I can’t help but wonder ‘what if’ the education system had been more inclusive and innovative when I was growing up.”
During her time at Washington STEM, Alex led our move from our “start-up” phase of making rapid impact with investments from key philanthropic leaders to our “sustainability” phase, where we work to create deep partnerships with donors in pursing our common goals of success for Washington students. Alex led us in developing a culture of philanthropy and helped us understand that everyone on staff was on the fundraising team – not just the staff with development in their title.
Alex was a mentor. Several of us on the Washington STEM team have worked with Alex for over a decade at different nonprofit organizations – two of us were even recruited by Alex to join the Washington STEM team – a key example of the time and energy Alex invested into the professional success of her colleagues. Alex was a calming, steady presence in our office who shared practical advice about how to move the work forward. And the good news is she deeply enjoyed the act of mentorship and even chose to volunteer as a mentor at several community organizations. As she said, “I’ve never once had to drag myself to a mentoring session, but I’ve had to stop myself from skipping there.”
Alex was a friend. We’re a small team at Washington STEM that spends lots of time together – both in the office and on trips across the state. Each of us has memories of Alex we will cherish for the rest of our lives – from volunteering at a food kitchen to learning of her adventures in travelling the globe to exploring the nightlife of Skagit County. In the past weeks we have all found comfort in sharing memories, laughter, tears, and even some of the honey Alex harvested from her beehives and shared with all of us.
What can I do to honor Alex?
Alex’s husband, Tony, has requested that people who wish to honor Alex’s life contribute to the causes Alex worked for professionally over the course of her life.
You can learn more about the important causes Alex worked for throughout her career in Tony’s blog post.
And we’ll close with one more quote from Alex:
“There are a lot of reasons to give back to your community either through time or money. That said, you don’t have to be wealthy to make a difference, and research indicates it is truly better to give than receive.”
Alex, our world is better because of all you gave. We will miss you.