THE TELEPHONE IN TED JOHNSON’S RETIREMENT-community condo is just about ready for meltdown, but the 90-year-old Floridian isn’t following suit. “I’m not crazy about all this attention,” he says with a shrug. Still, when you give away $36 million, it tends to get you noticed.
In fact, it is hard to say which is more astonishing: that Johnson has decided to donate $36 million to college scholarship funds—or that in his 28 years as an employee at United Parcel Service, he managed to save that much to begin with. Once again, Johnson just shrugs. “If you put your money away in good stocks and leave it,” he says, “it’ll grow.”
When Johnson joined the newly formed UPS as an engineer in Los Angeles in 1924, he was just out of college, just married and mindful of his future. The privately owned UPS, eager to motivate its employees, offered them all a stake in the company. Johnson, who rose from engineer to a vice president earning a comfortable (by 1952 standards) $14,000 a year, was always quick to respond. “Every opportunity I had to buy stock,” says Johnson, “I did.”
He and his late wife, Vivian, retired to Delray Beach in 1952. Nearly 30 years later, his investments had made him a multimillionaire. Even after transferring millions to his only child, Ted Jr., 63, a retired corporate executive, he says, “I realized I still had some money to give away.”
In the early 1980s he began to set up the Theodore R. and Vivian M. Johnson Foundation. When word of his good works was made public last October, Johnson’s phone started ringing off the hook. “I listen to them all,” he says of the hundreds of callers—but only to be polite. His $36 million is already spoken for. Some is allocated to schools for the blind and deaf because, says Johnson, “all my life I was embarrassed about being hard of hearing.” Some is earmarked for students involved in community service—”I think it’s good to help old people,” he says—and some for Native Americans, who, he believes, “got a bum deal.” Finally, in homage to the company that made his generosity possible, he has set aside money for children of UPS employees. “I just feel good about it,” says Johnson. “I hope the foundation goes on for years and years.”