Retired University of Missouri Professor Rebecca Johnson Passes Away

Published 5/10/2024

Retired University of Missouri Professor Rebecca Johnson Passes Away
Rebecca A. Johnson

Rebecca A. Johnson, PhD, RN, FAAN, 68, of Columbia, Missouri, died peacefully at her home May 4, 2024. She was a professor at the University of Missouri with joint appointments in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and the Sinclair School of Nursing.

A Celebration of Life open house will be held from 1-4 p.m., Sunday, May 19, 2024, at her home, 4120 Town Square Drive, Columbia, Missouri. A brief sharing of memories will take place at 2 p.m.

She was born April 9, 1956, in Belvidere, Illinois, and graduated from Belvidere High School in 1974. She went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1980 from the University of Dubuque, Iowa, Master of Philosophy degree from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1982 (as a Rotary Foundation Scholar), and doctorate from the University of Iowa in 1992.

She began her academic teaching career at Northern Illinois University in 1992 before joining the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing in August 1999 as the Millsap Professor of Gerontological Nursing and Public Policy. Shortly thereafter she received a joint appointment as an associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine for her research on human animal interaction. In 2005, she was named the University of Missouri William H. Byler Distinguished Professor. She was promoted to full professor in both the CVM and SSON in 2012.

Dr. Johnson established the Research Center for Human Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) in 2005. As an externally funded program of research and community projects, ReCHAI merged her work in gerontology with the benefits of human and companion animal interaction. Research included studies of human-animal interaction with veterans, older adults, prison inmates and children.

The author of many scholarly publications in peer-reviewed journals and books, she presented her research findings nationally and internationally. In 2011, she had two books published by Purdue University Press: “Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound, Stay Fit, and Have Fun Together,” and “The Health Benefits of Dog-Walking.” She served as president of the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations, a global umbrella organization of more than 40 organizations. In 2013, she was elected to the National Academies of Practice (NAP) and the Veterinary Medicine Academy (VMA) as a distinguished scholar and fellow.

She cherished family, including her siblings, nieces and nephews and their families, and traveled many miles to be with them on holidays.

She was also passionate about cars, especially fast ones, acquiring a Ford Mustang at age 16, to her late model Corvette convertible. She was president of the Mid-Missouri Corvette Club for several years and enjoyed caravaning with fellow ’Vette owners.

She loved gardening and learning about plants, traveling, exploring new things later in life including tennis, and given her education in Scotland, all things Scottish. She provided resources in her estate for loved ones to travel to Scotland to scatter her cremains in the water off the Isle of Harris.

She is survived by her Gordon Setter, McCallum (Callie) Johnson, who she liked to call her “independent Scottish lass,” caregiver and dear friend Thomas Syverson, of Lenexa, Kansas, brothers, Bruce (Kathi) Blatchford of Coloma, Michigan, and Gary (Betty) Blatchford of Belvidere Illinois; nieces and nephews, Steve (Mark) Bruns of Peoria, Illinois, Janet (Bob) Blatchford, Chris (Sarah) Blatchford, Kelly (Rich) Blatchford-Lusz, Katie (Tony) Blatchford-DiNicola, all of Belvidere, Illinois, and Kent (Danielle) Blatchford of Roscoe, Illinois; many great nieces and nephews and two great-great nieces.

She is predeceased by her parents and four nephews. 

Memorials are suggested to ReCHAI, an organization to which Dr. Johnson gave so much of herself.