Mike Miriello (’09M)

‘Why don’t we put Marilou there?’

Sesame Street was well established as a children’s television exemplar, and “I wanted to be Big Bird,” Marilou Moore Johnson (’80) said of her plans when she enrolled at JMU in 1977.

An opportunity to visit the offices of the Children’s Television Workshop, the creators of Sesame Street, during a summer trip to New York City made her decide the program wasn’t for her. And advice from an internship supervisor at public television station WVPT in Harrisonburg spurred her to consider graduate school and, ultimately, a role in higher education.

“I come from a long line of teachers, my grandmothers, my great aunts,” Johnson said. “I’m not sure that I knew all the other options out there for me professionally.”

She earned a Bachelor of Science in communication arts from JMU, then continued to Arkansas State University, where she earned a Master of Science in mass communication. Johnson completed her Ph.D. in communications at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, then joined JMU’s faculty in 1988.

Johnson’s first decade at JMU was spent teaching and advising students in the School of Media Arts and Design. Her first administrative role was as a member of the JMU Faculty Senate and its Curriculum Committee.

(Photo: Diane Elliott (’00))
“She quietly uplifts her colleagues, never seeking the spotlight, and she empowers everyone.”
Heather Coltman, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs

When an assistant dean was needed for the 14 schools and departments in the College of Arts and Letters, Johnson was selected, and “that started me on a path,” she said. 

While she was associate dean of the college, she served as interim director of the Institute for Technical and Scientific Communication, School of Music and School of Art, Design and Art History.

Later, Johnson became interim dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, serving until June 2008, when the late George Sparks became dean. He appointed Johnson as associate dean, and in 2010 the college's hallmark performance venue, the Forbes Center for the Performing Arts, became a reality.

(Photo: Diane Elliott (’00))

Johnson returned to SMAD as director for one year before becoming vice provost for faculty and curriculum in 2015. Then she served as interim dean of JMU Libraries from March 2018 until July 2019. 

“In many instances, it was just somebody who believed in me … who said, ‘Why don’t we put Marilou there?’” Johnson said. “But what I always knew, those leaders had my back.”

“In her many years at James Madison University, the higher education landscape has radically changed, and Dr. Johnson has skillfully adapted with it, rising to each and every challenge,” said Heather Coltman, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs. “She quietly uplifts her colleagues, never seeking the spotlight, and she empowers everyone.”

(Photo: Holly Marcus)

Johnson and her husband established the Blanche Garrett Memorial Endowment for Scholarship in Media Arts and Design in memory of Marilou’s great aunt. Their daughter, Callie Miller (’08), is a professor of engineering at JMU. Their daughter, Caitlin Hawes (’11), and Marilou’s brothers, Dr. French Moore III (’78) and Garrett Moore (’85), are also JMU alumni.

In August 2020, Johnson received the President’s Purple Star Award for Career Achievement.

“The career that I’ve had at this institution is the career that most people have by going from institution to institution,” Johnson said. “It’s been a privilege to have a variety of meaningful experiences.”

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