Fire Island Writer and Historian, Madeleine Johnson: 1924 – 2013

By Shoshanna McCollum

The author of one of the foremost cotemporary primers of Fire Island history died this past week at the age of 88. Madeline C. Johnson’s Fire Island: 1650s – 1980’s has been a fixture on the bookshelves of Fire Island cottages and most anyone else who takes an interest in the barrier island since its initial release 30 years ago.

Johnson passed away on March 15th at Shell Point Pavilion of Fort Meyers, FL due to complications from lung cancer. Her husband of 64 years, William Johnson survives her, as well as sons Clark, Robert, and five grandchildren.

“Mandy wrote the best history of Fire Island that exists,” said Dr. Robert Sayre, a fellow author as well as her longtime friend and summer neighbor in the community of Point O’ Woods. “She was only called ‘Madeleine’ by her husband Bill if she was out of order in any way.”

Johnson grew up spending her summers on Fire Island and sailing the Great South Bay. She was also an avid tennis and bridge player, Girl Scout Troop Leader as well as a proudly self-proclaimed lifelong Democrat. Born as Madeleine Clark, the daughter of a prominent patent attorney, she attended Smith College and subsequently earned her Masters of Library Science through Rutgers State College. Johnson worked as a librarian in the education field through her entire working career, and become founding President of the Point O’ Woods Historical Society. In retirement she continued to support charitable causes including Habitat for Humanity.

“The storm broke her heart,” said her daughter-in-law Kathryn Johnson speaking of Hurricane Sandy’s assault on Fire Island as her mother-in-law struggled with frail health in her final months. Several years ago, Johnson signed over the rights of her book over to the Point O’ Woods Historical Society. Now in its fifth printing, Fire Island: 1650’s – 1980’s sold over 7,000 copies and it continues to sell strong.

In lieu of flowers the Johnson family ask that donations be made to one’s preferred local hospice organization in Madeleine’s name.

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