Former Children’s Business style director and longtime Fashion Institute of Technology faculty member Lynda Johnson died Saturday at the age of 65.
Johnson died of pneumonia at Mount Sinai Morningside, according to her husband Alonzo Wright. A celebration of her life is expected to be held next year. Known for being without any pretenses whatsoever, Johnson was not one to put people out of their way, wanting everyone to get their just desserts and believing in sacrifice of self before someone else, Wright said.
In 1978, two years after graduating from FIT, Johnson joined what was then Fairchild Publications as fashion editor of Sportstyle magazine. After working in that role for seven years, she became style director for Sportstyle and Children’s Business, which had just started. Johnson specialized in the fashion side, covering trends and leading fashion shoots. After nearly 27 years at Fairchild, Johnson left in the fall of 2005, when Children’s Business was shuttered.
In 2009, she started Style Source Media with her business partner Tracy Mitchell-Brown, the former executive editor at Children’s Business, to create www.kidstyle source.com. Having first met Johnson after joining Fairchild in 1986, she said, “Lynda was an easy one to work with, because she was so passionate about what she did. She was so committed — everything had to be just right with fashion shoots. She was such a teacher as well. We had so many of her FIT students in to help and they picked up her enthusiasm. They learned and I learned from her.”
Johnson rallied Mitchell-Brown to create their online venture, an information site for the children’s industry, which Johnson felt was needed and that she kept up with after Mitchell-Brown relocated to Atlanta in 2016. Johnson also worked as a freelance stylist for fashion shoots for children’s manufacturers and magazines. “At all the trade shows, everyone would be so touched to see her because she was a rallying force around the new companies and the new designers,” Mitchell-Brown said, adding that she knew generations of business owners due to her tenure.
Johnson first started teaching at FIT in 1987 and worked in a multitude of disciplines. She was an assistant professor, teaching advertising and communications, magazine journalism, fashion journalism and a publicity workshop. She also held educational seminars about the fashion and communications industry for high school and college students from across the country. Roberta Elins, a professor of advertising and marketing communications, said, “Lynda was an outstanding educator and a dearly loved colleague. Her students knew that she demanded excellence and they loved her for making them achieve their full potential. She was a mentor to so many current students and alumni.”
Johnson also cofounded and was the chairperson for the Go On Girl! Book Club in 1991. The organization is the largest African American literary book club in the U.S. with 40 chapters and more than 400 members in 14 states. Members read and honor authors of the African diaspora.
Johnson was proud of being a cofounder of the group with other Fairchild alumni, Monique Greenwood and Tracy Mitchell-Brown. The club reads only Black authors from primarily Black publishers, and developed such a standing that publishers seek them out when their clients have new books and they are seeking coverage and sales, Wright said. “What started as a simple thing between three friends reading a book blew up to this,” he said.
The book club founders also co-authored a book published by Hyperion about starting and sustaining book clubs. Greenwood recalled on Monday plucking Johnson from Sportstyle to be the fashion editor of the then start-up Children’s Business where Mitchell-Brown was then managing editor. “As three Black women starting from scratch and really creating a viable publication, I think Lynda was incredibly proud of that. And she loved working with the children. It was more than picking out great clothes, having her eye on trends and putting together forecasts and fashion shoots. She was wonderful with the kid models. She would get down on the floor to get the shot she needed and play with them. She put her heart in everything that she did,” Greenwood said.
Former Los Angeles-based DNR editor Howard Ruben was a colleague of Johnson’s in the ’80s. They later reconnected when he started a public relations agency and often connected at trade shows including through one of his clients, the Children’s Trade Show, he said Monday. “She was such a big supporter of the industry and always had time and interest in that client, and any other relevant brands we represented. But, more than any of that, Lynda was a nice, whip-smart and warm human being,” he said.
Accomplished in so many degrees, Johnson would have liked to have been remembered for being kind and fashionable with a sense of style that was so unique to herself, Wright said.
The pair had lived together for 13 years before being married for 11 more years. Wright first met Johnson in a bar, and offered to buy her a drink. When she replied that she already had one, he suggested that she have another. The night that they had met was the first time that she had gone out socially after grieving the deaths of her mother and her first husband within a short period of time.
Born and raised in Syracuse, N.Y., at the age of 16, Johnson went to Atlanta for a brief spell before moving to New York City, where she remained for decades. Johnson was upbeat, smiling, optimistic and “always striving for better for others, as well as for herself,” her husband said. As much as she loved covering fashion and breaking trends, Johnson took great pride in seeing some of the child models she once worked with go on to succeed in acting and other fields, like Milla Jovovich. “She relished seeing other people succeed. A lot of her students went on to become editors,” Wright said. “Everybody held her in high regard. Past students would ask for advice, recommendations, consult because she was a world of knowledge.”
Recalling trips to trade fair Pitti Bimbo in Italy, he said, “She was a rock star. She would walk through this convention center and everybody knew Linda was there. She was so humble. Some people would puff themselves up about that. It was never about her.”
Fairly allergic to insect bites, after getting “mauled by mosquitoes” during one trip there, “the whole place knew and was looking out for Lynda, [asking] ‘Does she need water? Does she need food? Does she need this or that?’ You know people were there to work, sell their merchandise and keep moving.” he said. “And it was all about her. That’s the magnitude of how she touched people.”
Widely known as Johnson was, she was very private and humble, Mitchell-Brown said. “She would be shocked to know that so many people had so many wonderful things to say about her.” Her legacy is the number of people that she touched through her role as a teacher at FIT and commitment in creating the Go On Girl! Book Club into a national organization never waned, he continued.
In addition to her husband, Johnson is survived by her siblings Sandra Garrett, Charles Johnson, Mechele Wilder, Eddie Green and Sarah DeLee.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on Sept. 28 at 6:15 p.m.