- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 12, 2002

RICHMOND At an age when most people are content to relax and reflect on their life, 91-year-old Grace Claiborne Johnson-Goodwyn earned a master's degree to bolster her second career as an author.
Mrs. Johnson-Goodwyn, a 1946 alumnus of Virginia State University, will receive her M.A. in history at VSU's commencement this morning in Ettrick.
"I love it. Next year I'd like to go for another," Mrs. Johnson-Goodwyn said in a telephone interview from her son's home in Petersburg.
"One of the teachers said, 'Grace, go over there to Richmond and take law.' I might do it if it wasn't for the driving," Mrs. Johnson-Goodwyn said.
Joseph Goldenberg, chairman of VSU's history department, marvels at Mrs. Johnson-Goodwyn's diligence and her thirst for knowledge.
"What's remarkable is that you have someone of that age who is very much engaged in society," he said. "She has a wide-ranging mind, and it's rather inspirational to see that."
Mrs. Johnson-Goodwyn is a former elementary school reading teacher. She has been active in Petersburg's arts community for years, founding a children's theater and playing violin in the city's symphony.
Since retiring from teaching, she has written a book of poetry and two novels all published by a company she started with her son, Roderick Johnson of Petersburg and a fourth book is in the works.
Mrs. Johnson-Goodwyn said her interest in resuming her formal education was sparked by her work on "Sootie Lou," a novel about an abused woman she recalled from her childhood. She had to weave historical details into the story.
"I just decided I wanted to be a historian, so I made up my mind to go back to school," Mrs. Johnson-Goodwyn said.
She returned to Virginia State in 1997. Mr. Goldenberg said she only took a course or two at a time, but she worked hard and could always be counted on to show up for class.
"She's been very persistent," he said. "We have a foreign language requirement, and she got through two years of Spanish. It's not easy to learn a foreign language at that age."
He said the sight of Mrs. Johnson-Goodwyn slowly making her way to the classroom with the aid of a cane inspired classmates 70 years younger who sometimes found it tough to roll out of bed after a big weekend.
"I'm just extremely proud of her," Mr. Johnson said of his mother. "She's an inspiration not only to me and our family, but to many students at Virginia State."
Mr. Johnson said education has always been emphasized in his family.
"There were always lots of books," he said. "We were encouraged to read anything, and we still do. We had constant exposure, going to libraries, museums, field trips. We were encouraged to broaden our minds and explore, take risks and not just limit ourselves."


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