Monday, July 14, 2008

Jeri Lu Johnson

Jeri Johnson was an English major from Meadview, Arizona, when I met her in the Honors Program at BYU. She went on to teach Honors Colloquium for a year while waiting to go on to graduate school, and also did a year at BYU Law School, and a summer as a law clerk for Mountain Fuel Corporation in Salt Lake City, while I knew her. Her ultimate goal was to win the Rhodes Scholarship and go on to Oxford.

As part of the Rhodes selection process, she met well known Utah industrialist, philosopher, author and philanthropist Obert C. Tanner (then founder and president of the O.C. Tanner jewelry company headquartered in Utah, and author of the well known LDS book "Christ's Ideals for Living"), who offered to sponsor her first year at Oxford should she become unsuccessful in her quest for the Rhodes Scholarship. As the Rhodes eluded her, she went on to Oxford anyway with O. C. Tanner's assistance, and because of her, I made my first ever trip to England in December of 1979, a few months after my father's untimely death that summer to malignant melanoma.

I remember being colder than at any time before or since in my entire life (no small thing for a girl from "The Icebox of the Nation"), sitting up at night in the house in Hugh College at Oxford, running a bathtub full of hot water to try to stay warm, putting coins in the electric meters, discovering the Bodleian Library, the Ashmolean Museum, wine bars, bookstores, London, Surrey, and most importantly, Christmas at 42 Rectory Lane and the gracious hospitality of Reg and Min Oram, angels who became lifelong friends and hosted my husband and I in their home for two weeks of our honeymoon. There was the concert in Croydon, bells and carols on Christmas Eve at St. Mary's of Beddington, and memories that will last a lifetime.

Jeri always rather struck me as Liza Minelli's incarnation of Sally Bowles in "Cabaret," perhaps because they had the same haircut and some of the same mannerisms, or perhaps because our circles first overlapped at a time when several of us, including Anna Tueller and Alison Craig, went out to see the film version of "Cabaret" together, raising my consciousness at least one notch at the time.

I remember meeting her grandmother in her little apartment in Salt Lake City and watching Jeopardy, going to the BYU Law Library in the evenings to help with legal research for Mountain Fuel, and an ill fated cross country trip to deliver a car to one of her roommates. Somewhere mixed in with that was Keats, Simone de Beauvoir, and A Room of One's Own.

Clearly Oxford agreed with Jeri. Some years back, I noticed she was editing the works of James Joyce for Oxford University Press.

Earlier this spring, there was something of a rumble in the press about J. K. Rowling's venture into a New York City courtroom to take on someone who was undertaking the unwelcome publication of a Harry Potter lexicon. This received widespread coverage in the national and world press, but a particular article in The New York Times caught my eye, "Trial Over Potter Lexicon Ends With an Olive Branch." An expert witness had been called on Rowling's behalf, and details of her testimony spilled onto the page. An expatriate. An Oxford senior tutor (equivalent of academic dean) at Exeter College. And most apparently, a Potter fan.

Jeri Johnson.

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