MACON ‑ The University lost two prominent alumni this week with the passing of Dr. Leila H. Denmark and Dr. Edwin Johnston Sr. Dr. Denmark, a pediatrician who practiced medicine for more than 70 years, is believed to have been the University's oldest alum. She died at the age of 114 in Athens. Dr. Johnston, a 1941 graduate who taught Christianity at Mercer for 39 years and later served on the Board of Trustees, died at 93 in Macon.
Dr. Denmark was the world's oldest practicing pediatrician until her retirement in May 2001 at the age of 103. She was one of the rare supercentenarians known for reasons other than longevity — the only such person living to be 114. On Nov. 27, 2011, at age 113 years 299 days, she became one of the100 oldest people ever. At her death, she was the fourth-oldest verified living person in the world and the third-oldest verified living person in the United States.
Born Leila Alice Daughtry in the Bulloch County town of Portal in 1898, Denmark as a young woman graduated from Tift College, then studied at Mercer and taught high school science for two years. She decided to attend medical school when her fiancé, John E. Denmark, was posted to Java, Dutch Indies, by the U.S. State Department and no wives were allowed. She was the only woman in the 1928 graduating class of the Medical College of Georgia and married soon after graduation.
Denmark is credited as co-developer of the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine in the 1920s and 1930s. Her book, Every Child Should Have a Chance, is in its 14th printing.
In 1953, she received Atlanta’s “Woman of the Year” award at the Piedmont Driving Club. She was honored “not only for her work as a medical practitioner, but as a complete professional woman.”
She received the Distinguished Service Citation from Tift College in 1970, was awarded an honorary degree, the Doctor of Humanities, from Tift College in 1972, and earned the Fisher Award in 1935 for Outstanding Research in diagnosis, treatment and immunization of whooping cough.
Mercer presented Dr. Denmark with the coveted Distinguished Alumni Award in 1980. In 1987, Dr. Denmark and her husband, John Eustace Denmark, Mercer trustee from 1957-1962, were recognized as Lifetime Members of the President’s Club of Mercer University. Also in 1978, Dr. Denmark was honored by the Georgia Legislature for her 50 years of “outstanding and dedicated service in the practice of medicine in Georgia.”
Dr. Denmark’s words to live by included:
■You’ll live long if you eat right and love what you do.
■Women should be able to do everything a man does, but she shouldn’t neglect her baby to do it.
■If a medicine worked in the past, I say still use it.
■There are two things you can’t fool – a dog and a child. They know if you love them.
She lived independently until the age of 106, when she moved to Athens to live with her only daughter, Mary Denmark Hutcherson, who survives her along with two grandsons and two great-grandchildren.
Her services are set for Thursday at 1 p.m. at Athens First United Methodist Church, with burial at Portal Cemetery on Friday at 11 a.m. The family will receive friends from 6-9 p.m. on Wednesday at Lord & Stephens Funeral Home East.
Dr. Johnston graduated from Mercer in 1941 and entered Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He served in active duty with the U.S. Army in WWII and continued serving in the Reserves, retiring in 1978 with the rank of colonel.
Dr. Johnston and his family moved to England in 1948 for him to study at the University of Manchester. He received the Doctor of Philosophy degree in New Testament in 1950. He would later also receive a Doctor of Theology degree from Southern Seminary.
In 1950, Dr. Johnston began teaching Bible at Mercer, including some years of teaching Greek. He served as Roberts Professor of Christianity until his retirement in 1989. His influence at Mercer is evident where he served and chaired many faculty committees. He directed the 1961-62 self study of the College of Liberal Arts for the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges. The Edwin Dargan Johnston Christianity Faculty Research Fund was established in 1989 in Mercer’s College of Liberal Arts.
During his retirement, he also was a member of the Mercer Board of Trustees. He served as pastor or interim pastor at several churches in Kentucky and Georgia. During his retirement years, his great passion was researching and writing about the Christian college.
Dr. Johnston was a member of Ingleside Baptist Church in Macon and the Brotherhood Sunday School Class, and he served as a deacon.
The Johnstons’ three children, Gwen Weston, Dr. Edwin D. Johnston Jr. and David Weston, are all Mercer alumni.
Services will be held Thursday at 11 a.m. in the chapel of Ingleside Baptist Church. Burial will follow in Riverside Cemetery. The family will greet friends on Wednesday, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at Hart’s Mortuary in Macon.
About Mercer University
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University enrolls more than 8,300 students in 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies – on major campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah and at four regional academic centers across the state. Mercer is affiliated with four teaching hospitals — Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, and The Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus — and has educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. The University operates an academic press and a performing arts center in Macon and an engineering research center in Warner Robins. Mercer is the only private university in Georgia to field an NCAA Division I athletic program. www.mercer.edu