Former Rep. Jay Johnson Dies at 66

Posted October 19, 2009 at 3:50pm

Former Wisconsin Rep. Jay Johnson (D), who worked as a journalist, politician and eventually director of the U.S. Mint, died suddenly Saturday in Bristow, Va. He was 66.

Johnson was born in Bessemer, Mich., on Sept. 30, 1943. He completed an associate degree at Gogebic Community College, a bachelor’s degree at Northern Michigan University and a master’s degree at Michigan State University. Between earning degrees, he served as an information specialist based in Texas in the Army from 1966 to 1968.

Johnson kicked off a 32-year career as a broadcaster soon after college and spent the bulk of his career as a TV reporter at two stations in Wisconsin. In 1996 he ran for an open House seat and upset state Speaker David Prosser, earning 52 percent of the vote. In 1998, he was similarly upset by Republican state Rep. Mark Green, who went on to serve four terms.

Johnson’s commitment to public service didn’t wane after his re-election loss. He served local nonprofits, including the Green Bay Family Violence Center, Easter Seals of Wisconsin, United Way of Brown County and Wisconsin United Way, in a wide range of capacities.

He took several low-level government jobs before finding a unique second calling. In late 1999, President Bill Clinton appointed him director of the U.S. Mint. Johnson served as director from May 2000 to August 2001. He developed an expertise in numismatics and established his own firm, Jay Johnson Coins and Consulting, in 2002. The Boeing Co., Paragon Technology Group, DanSources and Jackson Metals were among his clients, according to the firm’s Web site. In 2001, he received an American Numismatic Association Presidential Award, and this summer he had become a spokesman for Goldline International Inc., marrying his love of broadcast and gold.

Rep. Steve Kagen (D), who represents part of Johnson’s former district, put out a statement remembering his predecessor Monday.

“Jay Johnson was a kind and gentle friend to everyone in Northeast Wisconsin,— the statement reads. “He served the best interests of all our families and will be missed greatly.—