Hazel W. Johnson-Brown, 83, first African American woman Army general

Hazel W. Johnson-Brown
Hazel W. Johnson-Brown
Posted: August 11, 2011

Hazel W. Johnson-Brown, 83, a nurse from Chester County who was the first African American woman to become an Army general, died of complications from Alzheimer's disease Friday, Aug. 5, at her home in Wilmington.

She was promoted to brigadier general in 1979 and became head of the Army Nurse Corps, which she led until her retirement in 1983. She then had a 14-year career in academia.

At a Pentagon news conference announcing her promotion, she said, "It is a significant event . . . and I am thrilled and deeply honored. But I would hope the criteria for selection did not include race but competence. Race is an incidence of birth."

Gen. Johnson-Brown joined the Army in 1955 and held positions around the nation and in Japan and South Korea.

In the mid-1960s, during the Vietnam War, she was assigned to help organize a MASH unit in Vietnam. She got sick and instead was assigned to Valley Forge Army Hospital. The nurse who replaced her in Vietnam was killed in an enemy attack, her sister, Gloria Smith, said.

From 1967 to 1973, Gen. Johnson-Brown was project director of the Army Medical Research and Development Command in Washington.

She later became director of Walter Reed Army Institute for Nursing. She was chief of nursing at an Army hospital in South Korea before being promoted to brigadier general.

After she left the military, Gen. Johnson-Brown became a professor of nursing at George Mason University in Virginia. She also was a founder of the Center for Health Policy, to educate nurses. She retired in 1997.

Gen. Johnson-Brown grew up on the family farm in Malvern with seven siblings. After graduating from Tredyffrin/Easttown High School, she was encouraged by a public health nurse to apply to Chester County Hospital School of Nursing. The admissions officer told her the school had never had a black student and never would, her sister said.

Gen. Johnson-Brown graduated from Harlem Hospital School of Nursing in New York and earned a bachelor's degree in nursing from Villanova University while working at the VA Hospital in Philadelphia.

A colleague recognized her leadership ability and suggested a military career. "I was a goal-directed person before the Army," she told The Inquirer in 1991. "Someone recommended I try the Army, so I did. I liked it, so I stayed for a while."

While in the Army, Gen. Johnson-Brown earned a master's degree in nursing education from Columbia University and a doctorate in education administration from Catholic University of America.

Gen. Johnson-Brown enjoyed travel and returned to the Philadelphia area often to visit family. In 1991, she led West Chester's Troop Appreciation Day Parade.

In the early 1980s, she married David Brown. They later divorced.

In addition to her sister, she is survived by brothers John W. Johnson and Clarence L. Johnson Jr.

A funeral will be at 11 a.m. Friday, Aug. 12, at DeBaptiste Funeral Home, Worthington and Miner Streets, West Chester. Friends may call from 10. A Memorial Mass will be said at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 16, at St. Clare Church, 12409 Henderson Rd., Clifton, Va. Burial will be in Arlington (Va.) National Cemetery at a later date.

Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

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