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1934 Carlyn 2024

Carlyn Elizabeth Johnson

December 1, 1934 — May 17, 2024


Carlyn Elizabeth Johnson passed away at home in Indianapolis, IN surrounded by family on May 17th, 2024 at the age of 89.

She was born and raised in White Horse, NJ to Earl and Alice (McGalliard) Wagner along with her sister Mary Anna (Diegert). She was raised with a love of nature and the outdoors and, apparently, suburban scandal, launching the neighborhood gossip newsletter “Over the Back Fence” to entertain her friends who were all forced to quarantine during the polio epidemic. 

Carlyn graduated from Hamilton High School, then from Cornell University in 1956 and moved to Chicago where she met the love of her life, Daniel Johnson (1931-2003) at a beach party on the shores of Lake Michigan. After proposing to Dan by saying casually “I think we should get married”, they settled in Indianapolis where she obtained her law degree from Indiana University in 1963. 

Carlyn spent the next several years in politics and policy administration. She worked for and advised members of the Indiana House of Representatives while authoring substantial publications on public school finance.  She joined Indiana University in 1973 and had a long and meaningful career as a Professor of Law and Public Policy.  She was a founding member of the IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs (now the O’Neill School) and taught there until her retirement in 1998. Her strong belief in social justice led her to continue to push for public school finance reform in an effort to balance inequities within Indiana public schools.

Her love of learning and teaching continued throughout her retirement. She became a Master Gardener and spent many enjoyable hours tending to her many flower gardens. She greatly enjoyed classical music and was an avid supporter of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra. She also loved bird watching and managed to view the elusive Harpy Eagle in a tick infested, sweltering field in the most wretched and remote corner of South America.

Carlyn was a strong proponent of early childhood learning and spent decades volunteering and tutoring in the Indianapolis Public school system. She worked closely with the United Way Success By Six program and the Dolly Parton Imagination Library project to foster early intellectual development in at-risk children. She also had active memberships and volunteer roles in many other organizations, including the Sertoma Club, OASIS, the IUPUI Senior Academy, the Fortnightly Literary Club, the Nature Conservancy and the Aububon Society. She and her husband Dan established scholarships at both IU and Wabash College to encourage disadvantaged students to explore public service and international studies. 

Carlyn’s true passion was travel. After spending her junior year of college studying at the Sorbonne University in Paris, she indulged her wanderlust on a regular and determined basis. Carlyn collected unusual destinations the way others collect stamps or coins. The more exotic and remote the locale, the better. Her hallway was dominated by a large corkboard world map, and she took great pride in the ever-growing collection of pinned locations. The destinations that she visited are too numerous to mention, save to say that she visited every continent, including Antarctica twice. First with her husband, then later with her sister or children and grandchildren, she relished finding a novel and picturesque new setting to share happy hour, utilizing her favorite travel-sized flask of White Horse scotch. 

Carlyn was a straight talker who was never shy about expressing her opinion whether it was popular or not. Her warmth and natural modesty allowed her to form close personal friendships with people from every walk of life, even when their opinions were very obviously wrong. The frequency and vehemence with which she could take the Lord’s name in vain would make a sailor blush. Famous for her corn casserole, blunt opinions and questionable flower arrangements, she was a generous, loving and sincere wife, mother and friend. She is survived by her two children Paul (Karen) and Sarah; her three grandchildren Katherine (Kevin), Julia and Derek; two nephews Carl (Kathleen) and Doug (Mary); three grand nephews and a great-niece and nephew.

A celebration of life service will be held at 11am on Monday, June 10th at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Indianapolis, 615 W 43rd St.  And as much as Carlyn loved flowers, we know she would have preferred donations be made directly to one of her favorite organizations, the Lawrence Township School Foundation. 

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Carlyn Elizabeth Johnson, please visit our flower store.


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