A. Grima Johnson, 89; CIA Officer, Preservationist

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A. Grima Johnson, 89, a retired officer with the Central Intelligence Agency and its World War II predecessor who helped preserve an unspoiled view across the Potomac River from Mount Vernon, died Oct. 29 of pneumonia at his home near Bryans Road in Charles County.

Mr. Johnson led an international and multilingual life from childhood and volunteered with the American Field Service in 1939 and 1940. He drove ambulances for the French and British armies in Egypt and Libya.

He joined the Office of Strategic Services during World War II after his graduation from Harvard University. He parachuted behind enemy lines in Belgium and, dressed as a German officer, sought to capture Nazi soldiers concealed in rural areas.

Once, he came across two downed U.S. fliers hiding in a barn. They were about to shoot him until Mr. Johnson uttered an oath that only an American would know. He received U.S., British and French decorations during the war.

Alfred Grima Johnson was born in a taxicab traveling across New York's Brooklyn Bridge, which led to his childhood nickname of "Taxi."

His mother, who hailed from an old French family in Louisiana, insisted that her son receive a European Catholic education and sent Mr. Johnson to a Benedictine monastery in England. He studied art in Munich for a year before entering Harvard. He was fluent in French and German and also knew some Russian.

Mr. Johnson graduated from law school at Louisiana State University in 1948 and joined the CIA a year later. He had overseas assignments in Germany, Algeria, Vietnam and Madagascar.

He retired in 1970 and spent the rest of his career as a real estate investor and as president of a family-owned property management company.

During the 1940s, Mr. Johnson bought a historic estate called Branitan in Charles County, directly across the Potomac from Mount Vernon. He spent years restoring the property, where he lived until his death. He sold the estate to a trust to preserve the pristine views from Mount Vernon in perpetuity.

He also helped restore a historic ancestral home in New Orleans, the Hermann-Grima House, built in 1831.

Mr. Johnson donated to Georgetown University many antique books that once were owned by a French duke who was his grandmother's cousin.

Two of his children died, Nathalie Johnson in 1950 and André-Hubert Johnson in 2002.

Survivors include his wife of 62 years, Francine B. Johnson of Bryans Road; four children, Bradish Johnson V of Kula, Hawaii, Marie Anita Coggins of Whitefish, Mont., Benedicte Grima Santry of Hatboro, Pa., and Sylvie-Anne Whiting of Park City, Utah; 12 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

-- Matt Schudel

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