On Thursday, April 11, 2017, Belle Griggs Johnson passed away peacefully at the age of 87. Belle was born on November 6, 1929, in Houston, Texas, to Mark K. Griggs and Louise Beraud, the youngest of three children. During the Great Depression, the Griggs family leased out their home in Southhampton and moved to Sheridan, Texas, living on property that Belle's grandfather owned, and where they shared the caretaker's cottage with her aunt and her three children. When Belle was in sixth grade the family moved back to Houston, where Belle attended Johnston Junior High; she graduated from San Jacinto High School in 1947. At San Jacinto, Belle was voted the Class Beauty; she was also a Lieutenant in the San Jacinto Golden Gauchos drill team. Education was the driving force in Belle's life. Her mother was one of the first woman graduates of Rice University, and her father graduated from what is now Michigan State University. Along with her sister Gloria and her brother Charles, she attended the University of Houston, where she studied Elementary Education and Art and Art History, and graduated in the Class of 1951. Throughout her life she was an avid Cougar fan and supporter, which made the Honorary Doctorate she received there, in 2013, one of her most cherished accomplishments.
Belle Griggs and Richard J.V. Johnson first met when they were teenagers at San Jacinto High School. But though seven years passed before they had their first date, it only took three months for him to propose, and they married in August of 1955. The Johnsons were loving parents, and became devoted grandparents; they extended their warmth, generosity and intense interest in children to thousands of Houston area young people. Belle was a longtime board member and active volunteer of the Houston Child Guidance Center, the DePelchin Children's Center, and the Mental Health Association of Houston and Harris County. She was a chairman of the 1992 Houston Mental Health Association's "Treasures of Texas Gala" and served on the advisory boards of Planned Parenthood, the Mental Health Association, and The Women's Home. In 1998, she was the recipient of the "Spirit of Anne Morrow Lindberg Award" presented by the Women's Health Summit of the Huffington Center on Aging at Baylor College of Medicine, and she served as an honorary chair of the DePelchin Children's Center Capital Campaign.
Belle was active in her community in other areas as well, with key interests in education, the arts, and family welfare, making innumerable contributions to the quality of public life on her own and in conjunction with her husband, who had risen to become the Chairman and Publisher of the Houston Chronicle. She completed three terms on the Institute of International Education's Volunteer Services Executive Board, and also served on its Southern Regional Advisory Board. Belle and Dick hosted many international students and visiting dignitaries for the Institute, and she chaired many of their fundraising events, including two annual luncheons and two Annual Festival of Nations Galas, honoring Brazil in 1990, and India in 1997. In 1993 Belle was named the Institute's "Volunteer of the Year", which prompted Mayor Bob Lanier to issue a proclamation making January 21, 1993, Belle Johnson Appreciation Day.
Belle inherited her love and appreciation of art from her mother, and was noted as an accomplished painter. She and Dick lent their support to virtually every area of the Houston arts community – the Houston Symphony, the Alley Theatre, the Society for the Performing Arts, Theatre Under the Stars, Houston Grand Opera, Houston Ballet, the Museum of Natural Science, and the de Menil Collection. In 1989, they received the "Cultural Leaders of the Year" award from the Houston Youth Symphony and Ballet, and were the honorees of the 1999 Houston Grand Opera Ball. Belle also served on the Museum of Fine Arts Board of Trustees, was honored by Women in the Visual and Literary Arts, and since 2008 served as Honorary Chair of the Mika Hasler Young Artists Competition.
Belle and Dick were "Pacesetters of the Year" for the Cancer League in 1991, and co-chaired the 1991 UNICEF Ball. In 1992, they were the recipients of the Jewish Community Center Children's Scholarship Ball Award. In 1993, they received the "Houstonians of the Year" award from the Houston School for Deaf Children. In 1997, they were given the "Loving Hands and Caring Hearts" award from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. In May of 1999, Belle became the first recipient of the Consular Ladies Club "Community Leader Award," and received the 1999 Ima Hogg Award from the Mental Health Association of Greater Houston. In 2001, Belle was honored by North Harris College, who renamed their child development program as the Belle Griggs Johnson Child Development Laboratory School Program. Additionally, she was recognized by the City of Houston for her work with children's education with another proclamation, this time by Mayor Lee P. Brown, declaring October 19, 2001, Belle Johnson Day. In 2003, in what she considered her crowning achievement, Belle successfully chaired the University of Houston's M.D. Anderson Library and Honors College Capital Campaign, with the able assistance of her husband.
Belle and Dick were founding members of Emerson Unitarian Church. Belle was deeply loved and will be missed greatly. She will be remembered for her beautiful smile, sly sense of humor, universal kindness, and her open and magnanimous heart. She was preceded in death by Dick, her loving husband of 50 years, her sister Gloria Hodge, and her brother Charles Griggs. She is survived by her daughter Shelley and her husband Art Gottschalk; her son Mark Johnson and his wife Laura; her grandchildren Paige, Morgan, and Cameron Johnson; her sister-in-law Bette and her husband Jeff Burkett; and her nephews Bill Hodge, Brian James, and Clark James. The family extends its sincere gratitude to Belle's devoted caregivers: Herman Fisher, Tigiest Brouk, Aduke Kolawole, Zee Charles, Ruth Levy, and Ann Uke Gbu.
A memorial service will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 2, 2017 at Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church, 1900 Bering Drive. There will be a reception with family at the church's Westwood Hall immediately following the service.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in Belle's memory to the UH Libraries online at info.lib.uh.edu/giving, DePelchin Children's Center online at www.depelchin.org/forms/donate, or Emerson Unitarian Universalist Church via check payable to Emerson UU Church, and send to 1900 Bering Dr., Houston, TX 77057.