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City mourns loss of former mayor, environmental activist

By Staff | May 3, 2019

PHOTO PROVIDED Louise M. Johnson

Louise Malia Johnson, who served as the city of Sanibel’s eighth mayor and was a longtime resident and environmental activist, died in November at the age of 92 after a long fight with Alzheimer’s.

Johnson served as mayor from December 1985 to November 1986.

During her term as mayor, the Sanibel City Council adopted 44 ordinances and 115 resolutions. Among the legislation adopted during Johnson’s tenure were numerous land use regulations, including:

– Adoption of a moratorium on new commercial development until new regulations were adopted

– Adopted a hurricane-resistant building code

– Authorized the city’s per day for each day of violation for repetitive code violations

– Establishment of setbacks for institutional uses

– Approved the city’s uniform street naming system

– Adopted procedures for permitting increased density for below market rate housing

– Adopted the codes regulating special events

– Adopted the codes establishing procedures for occupational licensing

– Adopted the codes establishing the procedures for trash containments

– Adopted the regulations for accessary structures such as guard houses and security fences for Sanibel subdivisions

– Established the procedure for illegally parked vehicles

In addition to serving as mayor, Johnson also served the community as a member of city council, as vice mayor and a member of the Sanibel Planning Commission.

She was born and raised in Syracuse, New York, with her two sisters and two brothers, living on the south side of the city in sometimes difficult circumstances. Johnson attended Syracuse University on a scholarship, where she met her husband of 43 years, Arthur. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in English, a master’s degree in library science and a Doctorate of Arts. Johnson later taught English at Alfred University in the southern tier of New York state.

It was when she and her family moved to Sanibel in 1977 that she found her mission for the second half of her life. Johnson volunteered at the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation guiding nature walks and fell in love with the flora and fauna of the island.

Starting in the 1980s and lasting into the 2000s, she served for 13 years on the Sanibel Wildlife Committee and seven years on the planning commission, as well as a council member, vice mayor and mayor. While some long-time residents may remember her most as one of the first female mayors of the island, Johnson felt her most meaningful impact came on the planning commission, trying to protect and preserve Sanibel’s unique environment.

In 2012, she received the Rachel Carson award from the Center for Environmental and Sustainability Education for her long-time service to the community. Johnson volunteered with many organizations on the island, including her church, Zonta International, and a variety of environmental organizations.

Johnson is survived by her daughter, Deborah; son, Steven, and his wife, Karena; granddaughter, Hannah; as well as nieces and nephews.

The family asks that the public remember Johnson for her love of Sanibel’s beaches, the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and the special people of the island who strive to keep it as natural as possible. Contributions can be made to the SCCF in her name.