Clarence Johnson

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Clarence Leonard "Kelly" Johnson (February 27, 1910 – December 21, 1990) was an aircraft engineer and aeronautical innovator. As a member and first team leader of the Lockheed Skunk Works, Johnson worked for more than four decades and is said to have been an "organizing genius."[1] He played a leading role in the design of over forty aircraft, including several that were honored with the prestigious Collier Trophy, acquiring a reputation as one of the most talented and prolific aircraft design engineers in the history of aviation. In 2003, as part of its commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' flight, Aviation Week & Space Technology ranked Johnson 8th on its list of the top 100 "most important, most interesting, and most influential people" in the first century of aerospace.[2] Hall Hibbard, Kelly's Lockheed boss, once remarked to Ben Rich: "That damned Swede can actually see air".[3]



Kelly Johnson was born in the remote mining town of Ishpeming, Michigan. His parents were Swedish, from the city of Malmö, county of Scania. Kelly was ashamed of his family's poverty, and vowed to return one day in prominence.[4] Johnson was 13 years old when he won a prize for his first aircraft design. He worked his way through Flint Central High School, then at Flint Junior College now known as Mott Community College, and finally at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.

While attending grade school in Michigan, he was ridiculed for his name, Clarence. Some boys started calling him "Clara". One morning while waiting in line to get into a classroom, one boy started with the normal routine of calling him "Clara". Johnson tripped him so hard the boy broke a leg. The boys then decided that he wasn't a "Clara" after all, and started calling him "Kelly". The nickname came from the popular song at the time, "Kelly With the Green Neck Tie". Henceforth he was always known as "Kelly" Johnson.

In 1937, Johnson married Althea Louise Young, who worked in Lockheed's accounting department; she died in December 1969. In May 1971, he married his secretary Mary Ellen Elberta Meade of New York; she died after a long illness on October 13, 1980, aged 38. He married Meade’s friend Nancy Powers Horrigan in November 1980.

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