St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is named for a man who lived nearly 2,000 years ago. Yet St. Jude Thaddeus still has the power to inspire the lives of men like hospital supporter J. Howard Johnson.
Howard grew up in a Catholic household of modest means in Southern California. His family instilled in him the importance of giving, and his mother prayed often to St. Jude Thaddeus—a devotion she passed on to Howard. “It’s part of my DNA,” he says.
A 1961 alumnus of the University of Southern California School of Law, Howard married Brenda LaGrange in 1968. His career path changed course several times before he reached the pinnacle of his professional life, founding Targus Group International, a leading maker of computer carrying cases and other computer accessories.
While building this highly successful business, Howard weathered periods of struggle and uncertainty. In those times he turned to St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless causes, just as the hospital’s founder, Danny Thomas, had done. Through their shared faith, Howard feels a kinship to Thomas and the hospital he built.
“There is a premise that underlies the foundations of this hospital that stems from Danny Thomas’ faith and convictions,” Howard says. “I don’t think this incredible place would exist without the support of the patron saint.”
As Howard’s business thrived, he remembered the values he had learned as a child. Howard leads by example, and he is guided by and believes in the power of faith. Howard and Brenda say they feel blessed in many ways, including their four healthy children and nine grandchildren. Supporting St. Jude is one of the couple’s ways of giving back.
The couple generously supports St. Jude through the J. Howard & Brenda LaGrange Johnson Family Foundation. In addition, they hosted a dinner in their hometown of New York to give other St. Jude donors in the area an opportunity to learn about the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – Washington University Pediatric Cancer Genome Project. In 2014, Howard received The Cardinal Stritch Donor of the Year Award, which is named in honor of Danny Thomas’ spiritual mentor. The award recognizes donors who have made a significant financial commitment to St. Jude.
On a recent visit to St. Jude, Howard and Brenda were impressed by the hospital’s research and care.
“St. Jude exemplifies what a child-friendly environment should be,” Brenda says. Howard adds, “Their achievements at all levels are astounding, and I do not question that St. Jude is going to continue to excel in all their fields of interest.”
In spite of all they have done for the hospital, Howard says the rewards he and his family have received in return are much greater.
“When you start giving to St. Jude, it is amazing what follows,” he says. “You reap joy by helping these children. I am 100 percent convinced of that.”
Abridged from Promise, Winter 2015