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Thomas S. Johnson was born in Rockford, Illinois, and graduated from Rockford College and Harvard Law School.
Tom was a true visionary and his commitment and dedication to the Academy’s mission will carry on. He was a real leader – he was kind and a collaborator. He led with a firm hand from behind the scenes as often as he could. Tom chaired the planning for this Bicentennial Convocation in the spring of 2009. This is language taken form a letter that was sent to announce the ceremony:
“The 2009 Convocation was especially historic. To honor the memory of our 16th president on the bicentennial of his birth, a Bicentennial Edition of The Order of Lincoln Medallion was conferred on 30 distinguished citizens of the world who have in lasting and significant ways preserved the memory of Abraham Lincoln. The categories to be honored are: 1. For preserving and enhancing the memory of Abraham Lincoln by scholars beyond Illinois. 2. For preserving and enhancing the memory of Abraham Lincoln by scholars within Illinois. 3. For preserving and enhancing the memory of Abraham Lincoln by curators and collectors. 4. For preserving and enhancing the memory of Abraham Lincoln by an artist, designer, or popular author. 5. For preserving and enhancing the memory of Abraham Lincoln by the unsung heroes of the Lincoln Canon.”
For over thirty years, he provided leadership to a wide range of professional organizations serving as President of his local bar association, a member of the Board of Governors of the Illinois State Bar Association, and a member of the House of Delegates of the American Bar Association. He served as Chairman of four national commissions of the American Bar Association, testified on behalf of the American Bar Association at the Access to Justice hearings of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and chaired the ABA’s National Conference on Legal Services and the Public. He served as co-chair of a Joint Commission of the Chicago Bar Association and the Illinois State Bar Association to survey the legal needs of the citizens of Illinois, which was instrumental in devising better ways for the Illinois Bar to meet the legal needs of the indigent. He was one of the founders of the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois, a major funding source for legal aid offices across the state and served as Chancellor of the Academy of Illinois Lawyers. He was the author of numerous articles for professional journals and delivered major speeches at meetings of the American Bar Association and of fourteen different state bar associations. In 1997 he received the Award of Honor from the Illinois State Bar Association for a “lifetime of service to the public and the profession.”
Mr. Johnson was a staunch supporter of the cause of education, as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Rockford College; Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Illinois Institute for Continuing Legal Education; and member of the Board of Trustees of Eastern Illinois University. In 1990 he chaired a state bar association task force to determine how best to respond to bigotry and hate speech on college and university campuses and was the author of the final report of the task force “If Words Could Kill”. Since 1987 Mr. Johnson served as President of the Board of Directors of Illinois Boys State, which conducts an annual week-long leadership conference on the campus of Eastern Illinois University. In 1989 he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Rockford College for his service to the cause of education. Mr. Johnson was a Regent of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois and chaired its Lincoln Bicentennial Committee. He also served as Chairman of the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission of Winnebago County and the Lincoln Bicentennial Committee of the Illinois State Bar Association. He was also a member of the Board of Directors of the Abraham Lincoln Association.