A newsmaker you should know: Edgeworth man pursued vision to link companies, nonprofits

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There is no doubt that Richard "Dick" Johnson is a faith-driven man.

His strong Christian faith comes out in every aspect of his life from simple conversation to his work with World Vision, an organization that serves impoverished children around the world.

It was his faith that helped him define his work with World Vision more than 25 years ago, a job he recently retired from. While serving on the mission board of St. Stephen's Church in Sewickley, the former oil executive "analyzed" World Vision for the church.

"I was visiting in California for business and took a day to explore World Vision," said Mr. Johnson, 66, of Edgeworth. "We wanted to see if this was an organization that we wanted to support."

It was a visit that would change his life.

"I felt like they were talking to me -- that I needed to help the poorest of the poor," he said.

Mr. Johnson was chief financial officer for Gulf Oil when the company merged with Chevron in 1986, and he decided not to stay.

"I just wanted to go in a different direction at the time," Mr. Johnson said.

After leaving Gulf, he worked with the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation and wanted to help World Vision's mission as well. Under Mr. Johnson's direction, the two nonprofits formed a partnership in 1988.

While at Gulf, Mr. Johnson had overseen the company's donation of the Applied Research Center in Harmarville to the University of Pittsburgh.

"It was a huge donation, the largest donated asset to a nonprofit. So I knew that corporations would be willing to donate product to nonprofits," Mr. Johnson said.

Based on his experience with Gulf, he believed World Vision could expand upon that philosophy. He helped to start a donation program, a gift-in-kind program in which corporations could donate gifts to be sent to impoverished communities.

His daughter, Wendy, who helped him start the gift-in-kind program, was the second employee. Stephanie Nestor, then 18, also joined the organization.

And then -- nothing.

"We thought the donations would just roll in, and it just didn't happen. I put my arms around the girls and we just prayed," Mr. Johnson said.

It didn't happen instantly, he said, but donations started coming and soon, the program was up and running.

"The flood gates just opened," he said. Donated items included medical supplies, clothing, building supplies and more.

The program was very successful, but five years later, Wendy began having health problems. Diagnosed with brain cancer, she underwent treatment and had a brief remission before she lost her battle with cancer in 1995.

Over the years, the program continued to grow. Starting in a donated warehouse, World Vision now has a global distribution center in Aleppo with more than 70,000 square feet and more than 7,500 volunteers. The organization provides donated goods to more than 100 countries, including the United States.

"By 2010, over $4 billion of donated product had passed through our doors.

In 2012 alone, we received $290 million of product," Mr. Johnson said.

In 2002, the gifts-in-kind program became its own division of World Vision. Mr. Johnson continued to oversee operations until he retired June 1.

"We have been blessed out of our socks. This has grown beyond my belief," he said.

Although it is difficult for him to leave the organization, Mr. Johnson said it is time to reflect and find his "next big project."

"My wife and I have been talking about [retirement] for a couple of years," he said. "I promised her I wouldn't commit myself to a big project for at least six months. We want to see what doors God wants us to walk through next."


Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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