Mourning the Loss and Celebrating the Life of A. Ross Johnson

February 11, 2021

We are deeply saddened to share the news of A. Ross Johnson's passing.

A brilliant and tireless scholar, Ross worked closely with our Cold War Archives Research program (previously "Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty"). He was essential to its creation and a generous and gracious mentor to many CWAR Fellows.

We share our heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones as we mourn his loss.

A. Ross Johnson (far left), with Victoria Phillips (second from left) and the first group of CWAR Fellows in 2016.

Photo: A. Ross Johnson (far left), with Victoria Phillips (second from left) and the first group of CWAR Fellows in 2016.

The Wilson Center, where Ross was a long-time Public Policy Fellow and senior scholar, has written a statement honoring his work. Prof. Victoria Phillips, who leads the CWAR program, and Sarah Roth have also wished to express the following statements:

"A. Ross Johnson always encouraged the young scholar, even when she was not so young in my case. He consistently inspired fresh and innovative thinking, and mentored new projects with an even hand. When I first met him and introduced the idea of the CWAR program, his commitment never faltered, and he met our first fellows at the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives in Budapest to explore the history of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. He met with our group in New York and Washington, brought us to the Wilson Center, and always encouraged the work of new scholars. His spirit and generosity will be greatly missed by us all."

—Victoria Phillips, Visiting Fellow, Department of International History, London School of Economics

"Professor Johnson was such an integral part of my graduate work and my growth as a scholar. I have spent more hours than I can count pouring over his books, his articles and his research. Professor Johnson read drafts of my thesis, spent hours on the phone with me discussing my ideas, sent me documents that hadn't made it into the archives and, most importantly, believed in my research and gave me confidence to do the same.

I first met him through Professor Phillips' Cold War history seminar and was absolutely terrified of speaking to him. Professor Johnson was the scholar of Radio Free Europe. Professor Phillips encouraged me to send Professor Johnson a draft of my MA thesis to get his advice and opinion. While I knew it was the academically sound thing to do, I was nervous. My thesis opened with a critique of Professor Johnson's analysis of the Radio Free Europe's sister organization the Free Europe Press and the organization's leaflet campaigns in Eastern Europe. I disagreed with his dismissal of the leaflet campaigns as unimportant  and spent about 80 pages arguing against his interpretation of history. I was convinced he was going to respond to my draft with an outright dismissal of my arguments and a recommendation that I start from scratch.

I could not have been more wrong. Professor Johnson responded with notes - pages and pages of suggestions, corrections of details, clarifications of arcane terms and even photocopies of documents from his own collection of primary source research.

He was incredibly generous with his time, his advice and with his resources. One of the proudest moments of my nascent career as a historian was when Professor Johnson recognized me at a conference and came over to chat with me about my research, almost a year after we had last met.

Words cannot describe how much of an impact he had on my academic work and my prospective career, or how grateful I am to count him among my mentors."

Sarah Roth, CWAR Fellow & Graduate of the European History, Politics, and Society MA program