Frank Johnson, Jr., M.D., was born on June 27, 1931 in Portland, Arkansas to Rose Davis Johnson Hamiter and Frank Johnson, Sr. He grew up as the son of a sharecropper in a region where African-American doctors were virtually unheard of, and overcame overt racism to be the first of his family to attend college and ultimately to receive a medical degree.in 1955, Dr. Johnson graduated from Arkansas A&M College with a Bachelor of Science degree. He then joined the United States Army as a 4th Class Medical Laboratory Technician, serving in Fort Riley, Kansas. He was honorably discharged in 1958.In 1958, Dr. Johnson moved to Indiana to pursue his medical degree, which he received in 1965. He continued his medical studies and completed his specialty training in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Indiana University in 1970 and then joined Dr. Carl Freed in private practice.
In 1970, Dr. Johnson became Assistant Director of the Marion County Health Department and served in that position through 1975 when he was promoted to Director of the agency. He dedicated his knowledge and skills to develop and implement health programs aimed at the health and welfare all over the state of Indiana. During his 17 year tenure as Director of the Health Department, he led a 600 plus professional and supportive staff providing services in school medical and dental health, prenatal and well-child clinics, environmental codes and enforcement, restaurant and food inspection, and home nurse visitations. Under his leadership, Dr. Johnson was responsible for establishing a wide range of programs and efforts to combat infant mortality when Indianapolis had the dubious distinction of having the highest infant mortality rate in the country. He established the Mother and Baby Health line to help inform pregnant women about community resources. In addition, he established the ACTION Center (Adolescent Care Team in our Neighborhood), the first teen health center in the state, which was nationally recognized by the American Medical Association. Several community health programs were improved by Dr. Johnson including the Maternal & Infant Care, Family Planning, Immunization, Communicable Diseases, Hepatitis, Teen Pregnancy, Contraception, Women, Infants & Children (WIC) School Health and Bell Flower Clinic (a free clinic to treat sexually transmitted diseases).
In 1975, he created Marion County’s mosquito control program following an encephalitis outbreak. The Environmental Court was established in 1978 to resolve community environmental problems and enforce environmental laws. Dr. Johnson led the local response to AIDS during his tenure at the department. His activities included leading a countywide effort with local primary care agencies dealing with HIVAIDS, to create the city’s first integrated HIV health care delivery system. This system involved major city hospitals, 10 community health centers, a social service agency and the resources for community-based HIVAIDS prevention programs. He also oversaw the expansion of the public health laboratory service. During his public health career, he was a frequent guest on radio and television, discussing numerous public health issues. Dr. Johnson was instrumental in expanding the department’s role in tuberculosis control. Former Indiana Governor Otis R. Bowen once said, "He served with great honor and distinction, and I’m proud of the work he has done for both Indianapolis and the state of Indiana." Dr. Bowen recalled that Indianapolis had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation. "Dr. Johnson worked hard to correct this problem and to drastically reduce the rate of SIDS in Indianapolis."
In 1992, Dr. Johnson was named a Sagamore of the Wabash by Governor Evan Bayh. Among his numerous additional honors are: The Commission for Downtown, Inc.; National Medical Association Award; CASPER Award (Community Appreciation for Service in Public Enlightenment and Relations); Good Government Award, Indianapolis Jaycees; Health Achievement Award from Senator Richard Lugar; Physician of the Year Award, Blakley Specials; Center for Leadership Development, Achievement in the Professions; and Outstanding Service Award, United Way of Central Indiana. After his retirement as Director in 1992, he continued in private practice until the summer of 2003.Among Dr. Johnson’s many accomplishments and perhaps the one for which he is most famous was his delivery of thousands of babies including the Gaither quintuplets in 1983. The quintuplets are the first African-American multiple births in the nation born without benefit of fertility drugs. The quintuplets and their parents, Sidney and Suzanne Gaither, remained a part of Dr. Johnson’s life and were members of his wedding party in 1995. Dr. Johnson appeared on local and national television including the Today Show, most recently when the quintuplets celebrated graduation from high school.
In the course of his medical career, Dr. Johnson was on staff at Indiana University Hospital, Methodist Hospital, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Winona Hospital, Women’s Hospital and Wishard Memorial Hospital. He was active on many boards of directors both nationally and locally in Indiana, including: Chair of Board of Flanner House, Inc., Indiana Sickle Cell Advisory Committee, Chairman of the Board and President of the Indianapolis Medical Society, Board of Trustees of the Indiana State Medical Association, Founding Member of 100 Black Men, Use What You Got Ministry, Community Action Against Poverty, Greater Indianapolis Council on Alcoholism, Inc., Indiana Public Health Association, Indianapolis Alliance for Health Promotion, Indianapolis Health Institute, Marion County Infant Mortality Reduction Plan, National League for Nursing, American Public Health Association Accreditation Review Board, Pan Am Games - Co-Chairman of Medical Services Division, Robert Wood Johnson Technical Advisory Committee, Senior Citizens Center of Mt. Zion and Visiting Nurse Association. Dr. Johnson was also a member and served as a leader of a number of medical, professional, and community service organizations including the Aesculapian Medical Society, Indiana Association of Public Health Physicians, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., the State Committee for Black and Minority Health, United Way Admissions Committee, Task Force on Animal Control, Mayor’s Human Rights Commission and the Governors Consortium on Welfare Reform.
Rejoicing in the opportunity to share the gift of knowledge, Dr. Johnson returned to his alma mater and served on the staff of Indiana University as an Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology from 1970 through 1993. He spoke to many incoming classes of medical students and shared his wisdom of how to make it through medical school and their future responsibilities as medical professionals. He also took the time to learn from others, saying "the teacher always learns more than the student." He was also the author of various articles included in medical journals such as the Indiana Medical Journal, Surgery and Gynecology and the SPEA Review.
Dr. Johnson was renowned among his friends as a "raconteur extraordinaire", regaling and teaching through colorful personal stories and observations. Some of these were published in his book of poetry "Prescriptions for Love". Prior to his untimely death, Dr. Johnson was planning to continue utilizing his knowledge and skills as a medical consultant. He was also looking forward to learning to play the guitar and transpose his poetry into songs. Dr. Johnson also expressed his creativity and generosity through his culinary skills and great love of entertaining friends and family. His soulful recipes were full of special ingredients destined to warm the hearts and stomachs of all. Dr. Johnson was an active Christian throughout his lifetime. While living in Indianapolis, Dr. Johnson worshipped as a member and Elder of Witherspoon United Presbyterian Church and also attended Light of the World Christian Church for many years. On December 24th, 2003 Frank Johnson, Jr., M.D. departed this earthly life.
Published in the The Indianapolis Star on Dec. 28, 2003