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August 2012: Linda Johnston

Linda Johnston at the Great Wall of China.

For the past 24 years, Linda Johnston has served VCU Music tirelessly–always ready with an answer, a smile, and an encouraging word. Her official title is Administrative Director and her responsibilities primarily include handling the department’s finances and human resources, but she is so much more.

“I had a lot to deal with when I was at VCU both personally and at school,” said former student Marcey Webb Leonard, “and she saw me through all of it. From classes to financial aid issues, from a kind word of support to a firm one of guidance, she was the one I would go to get the ‘real’ answer.”

Keith Hanlon (MM ‘05) agrees. “Linda provides so much guidance to all of the students in regards to recitals, scheduling, financial aid, counseling….the list is endless. She is the one person that we all know we can trust to go to when we have a problems,” Keith said. As an adjunct professor and a graduate student, Keith often pointed others to Linda for assistance. “While I was teaching at VCU, when talking with a student about a problem either school-related or personal, I found myself saying ‘Linda will know what to do!’”

Linda first came to VCU in 1968 as a clarinet major. “It was between music and math,” Linda recalled. “I had always been strong in math, but in my senior year of high school, the advanced math class and band met during the same period. I chose band and knew I would be a music major after that. My math teacher wasn’t too happy about that!”

1968 was also the first year that the Richmond Professional Institute merged with the Medical College of Virginia to form Virginia Commonwealth University. The Music department was then housed in two neighboring buildings on Franklin Street (one of which was the Bowe House). “It was mostly a commuter school then,” Linda said, “there wasn’t a lot of on-campus housing or apartments in the Fan where we could live. There was no student commons, just a sandwich shop on Franklin Street where we could hang out. The school was known as a strong arts and music school, though.”

Linda earned her Bachelor of Music Education degree in 1972, soon married, and began her own piano and organ studio. In 1988, while seeking a career change, Linda submitted an application to the University’s human resources, not knowing about the open position in the Music department. The rest is VCU Music history.

Linda has worked under six department chairs and since her time as a student has seen the University expand and achieve national and international recognition. As the Department of Music has grown, Linda said she has seen an increase in the quality and intensity of the education that students receive. “We’re able to offer so much more to students now in terms of scholarships, grants, and opportunities.”

Linda credits some of the department’s growth to the support received from the School of the Arts and at the University level and has been pleased to see inter-school and inter-departmental collaboration for both faculty and students. But one of the greatest strengths she sees in the department is the commitment of the faculty and staff to the education of the students.

Terry Austin, Director of Bands at VCU Music, sees that same commitment in Linda. “Linda Johnston has been, and continues to be, a vital part of the Department of Music. In my opinion, her most enduring and valuable contribution to our department is the tremendous pride she has for everything we do. She has a very strong connection to our students and is one of the first people that our alums stop to see when they visit.”

On top of her responsibilities at VCU, Linda is the music director and organist at Pine Street Baptist Church and also volunteers with the senior adults group there. She also occasionally works as a group tour escort with the travel agency SignaTours, leading large tour groups on day and multi-day trips to sites up and down the East Coast.

Besides her grandsons Sawyer (4) and Asher (2), Linda’s other two loves are VCU Basketball (she’s held season tickets for more than 25 years) and traveling. In recent years, Linda’s globe-trotting has led her to the Panama Canal, to China with the Commonwealth Singers, and to international music conferences with faculty member and friend, Dr. Sonia Vlahcevic, in Croatia, Thailand, South Korea, Spain, and Hawaii.