Ray Mitchell Johns1

b. 15 January 1938, d. 18 February 2018
Ray Mitchell Johns
Feb. 18, 2018
Ray Mitchell Johns
Feb. 18, 2018
     Ray Mitchell Johns was born on 15 January 1938. He married Susan E. Diggins in 2001. He died on 18 February 2018 at age 80;
Ray Mitchell Johns, 80, of Cortland Drive, Hagerstown, Md., died peacefully on Friday, Feb. 18, 2018, at Greenfield Assisted Living of Hagerstown, surrounded by love.

Born Jan. 15, 1938, in Hagerstown, he was the son of the late Laurence and Freeda (Brandenburg) Johns.

Ray was a graduate of Hagerstown High School, Class of ’55, and received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. from the University of Maryland (agriculture/economics).

Growing up, he worked on two family farms simultaneously. After graduation, he was primarily a college professor (University of Maryland, Ashland University in Ohio, Hagerstown Community College and Wilson College). In intervening years, he also was employed with the Maryland Department of Agriculture and was county administrator in Calvert County. He owned and operated Antietam Tractor & Equipment Inc. on Leitersburg Pike for 10 years.

He was a two-time Fulbright recipient and lived, worked and taught in Czechoslovakia, Moldova, the Slovak Republic, and Ukraine over a 19-year period.

The associations and clubs Ray was involved in over the years include Civil War Roundtable, Maryland Department of Agriculture, lifetime member of Leitersburg Volunteer Fire Co., Leitersburg Ruritan, Fulbright Association, MG Club (Chesapeake Chapter), Model-T Club (Blue and Gray Chapter) and Ashland College Board of Trustees.

Ray was a member of St. James Brethren Church, but was equally at home worshipping with Christians of other denominations which, over the years, included Covenant Presbyterian Church, Hebron Mennonite Church and St. Paul’s Free Lutheran Church.

Ray is survived by his wife, Susan E. Johns (nee Diggins), whom he married in 2001; son, Andrew Johns; grandson, Raymond Johns; and stepson, Abe Shellito.

He is also survived by one brother, Lawrence Johns.

Services and burial will be private and at the convenience of the family.

The family thanks, with very grateful heart, the many caregivers of Hospice of Hagerstown and Greenfield Assisted Living for their tremendously loving care of Ray.

Memorial donations may be made to Hospice of Washington County, 747 Northern Ave., Hagerstown, MD 21742, or to the AFTD (Association for Frontotemporal Disease), Radnor Station Bldg 2, Suite 320, Radnor, PA 19087.

Arrangements were made by J. L. Davis Funeral Home, Smithsburg, Md. Online condolences may be offered at www.jldavisfh.com.


  1. Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through
    the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life
    Remembered" is about Ray Mitchell Johns, who died Feb. 16 at the age of 80. His obituary was published in the Feb. 20
    edition of The Herald-Mail.
    A lifelong learner, teacher and "deep thinker," Ray Johns of Hagerstown was always looking for
    ways to learn new things. He and his wife, Susan Johns, loved learning through "The Great
    Courses" DVDs they watched together.
    Through two Fulbright experiences, Ray taught in four Eastern European countries.
    To prepare for a trip to Ukraine in 2005, Ray and Susan took a year of Russian language classes at
    Montgomery Community College.
    With a shared interest in world languages, the couple next took two semesters of German at
    Hagerstown Community College, then joined their classmates for a trip to Germany.
    It was a life Ray probably couldn't have imagined for himself as a boy working the family farm in
    Leitersburg, as well as another farm just over the Pennsylvania line that his father also owned.
    However, Ray's career in academia was shaped by his love for the farm.
    The youngest of Laurence and Freeda Johns' two sons, Ray got his business sense and work ethic
    from his father, who worked at Pangborn Corp., his patience, goodness and loving nature from his
    mother, Susan said.
    In a writing of Ray's from about 2006 entitled "A Spiritual Life Biography" that was read by son
    Andrew Johns at Ray's service, he recounted how his childhood was strongly influenced by the faith
    of his mother and grandmothers.
    Andrew, who lives in Hagerstown, was in the U.S. Navy for 20 years. He has a binder filled with the
    letters he and his father wrote back and forth to each other during that time.
    "I valued everything my father said. There was something to learn in everything he conveyed,"
    Andrew said.
    A traumatic head injury after a bike accident left 10-year-old Ray in a coma for several days. He was
    not able to serve in the military due to the resulting deafness in his left ear.
    Neither of their parents had gone to college, but both Ray and his older brother, Lawrence Johns,
    who became a dentist, went to what was then Hagerstown Junior College.
    Ray continued his studies at University of Maryland College Park, completing bachelor's, master's
    and doctorate degrees in agriculture and economics.
    After earning his Ph.D., Ray married his first wife and mother of their son Andrew. During his
    teaching career, Ray taught at University of Maryland, Ashland College in Ohio, HCC, Frostburg
    State University, and Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa.
    He also was owner/operator of Antietam Tractor & Equipment for a decade, while working for the
    U.S. Department of Agriculture, and owned a farm in Leitersburg until 2011.
    "He was fearless. He wasn't afraid to do anything," Andrew said.
    Jim Reed was 21 when Ray hired him to work in the business. He is now the owner and said Ray
    taught him everything he knows about running a business.
    "I got an education from a doctorate in economics for free. He taught me a lot," Reed said.
    Love of learning
    Through it all, Ray continued to learn and challenge himself in a variety of ways.
    At HCC, he was one of the first faculty members to take a sabbatical at another U.S. research
    university, said Michael Parsons of Hagerstown, who described himself as a "professional colleague
    and close friend" of Ray's.

    Ray's 1985 sabbatical at Yale University was a time of observation and introspection for him.
    He was deeply influenced by a course he took on Christian Morality and Spiritual Growth through the
    School of Divinity and while attending weekly worship services led by students.
    "My life underwent an amazing transformation," Ray wrote in his spiritual biography.
    Ray returned to HCC with a fresh focus, determined to become a better person.
    His first Fulbright teaching experience was to Czechoslovakia during the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
    He hadn't traveled much growing up, but was raised in the Brethren tradition with a strong sense of
    Ukraine was his second Fulbright opportunity during the 2000-2001 school year. Prior to that, Ray
    met Susan when she was working at a Ben Jones art show at HCC, where she was an
    administrative assistant.
    Ray was 17 years older and they discovered a shared love of farm life and music, had a similar
    sense of humor and both took sermon notes in church.
    Their wedding was delayed after Susan was recovering from hip surgery in 2000. They got married
    on June 9, 2001, nine days after Ray got back from Ukraine.
    He retired from HCC in 2003 and through Ray's connections, the Johns' spent the 2005-2006 school
    year in Nitra, Slovakia, where both taught.
    "Ray has inspired me, even though he's gone," said Susan, who taught English language in Nitra.
    "He was such an impetus in my life. He was a real motivator."
    Theirs was a happy marriage, a partnership where they worked together.
    Giving back
    With Ray's extensive resumé, he could have taught at any number of colleges.
    3/5/2019 Ray Johns | A Life Remembered | heraldmailmedia.com
    Janet Heim writes the Sunday feature "A Life Remembered," Instead, Ray knew when the time was right, he wanted to return and give back to the community that
    had been so good to him, said Parsons, who was indirectly involved with hiring Ray at HCC.
    "We found he was absolutely an outstanding teacher" and could make economics understandable to
    the wide range of students at HCC, Parsons said.
    "Believe me, when he retired, he was much missed," he said. "As a friend, he would do just about
    anything for you."
    Susan said Ray had a plan for every day, one that balanced work and fun. Ray's idea of fun was
    going to a music program, an art show or a cultural event.
    "He was one of the most well-rounded people I know," Susan said.
    Ray was never the same after surgery for pancreatic cancer in May 2009, though. Perhaps the
    dementia Ray suffered after that could also be attributed to his childhood head injury, Susan
    wonders, as she recalls slowly losing the Ray she knew.
    "His goal was to become a better person. The important thing to Ray was to finish well…" Susan
    "... And he did."