Shirley Zaiss Johnson died on July 9, 2021, in Washington, DC, from ovarian cancer. The daughter of Helen and Arthur Zaiss, she was born at St. Francis Hospital in Burlington, Iowa, on March 6, 1940.
Graduating from the University of Iowa with honors and earning a juris doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1965 as well as membership in the Order of the Coif, Ms. Johnson started her career as a trial attorney with the United States Department of Justice, Antitrust Division. She later served as antitrust counsel to the United States Senate Judiciary Committee and subsequently entered the private practice of law, where she was a partner at Greenberg Traurig and was the National Chair of the antitrust practice. Throughout her career, she authored distinguished legal papers. Entering law when it was a predominately male profession, Ms. Johnson generously mentored many female colleagues throughout her life.
Following her retirement from law in 2009, Ms. Johnson turned her attention and tenacity more fully to her other interests: notably support for autism and the arts, including her founding of the TRI Project, an innovative program for children in Iowa. Ms. Johnson also became a recognized art collector and author on Chinese textiles and Japanese metal art.
In Washington, DC, Ms. Johnson served on the Board of The Textile Museum from 1989 to 2003 and on the Board of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art from 2004 to 2012 and from 2017 until her death. The National Museum of Asian Art is honored to be the primary beneficiary of Ms. Johnson’s philanthropy, which embraced many institutions and causes, including a gift of Meiji-period metal art to the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, MD and a bequest to the George Washington University and the Textile Museum, Washington, DC.
During her active service to the Board of the National Museum of Asian Art, she served in executive positions and chaired numerous committees, unsparingly devoting her time, talent, and wisdom to strengthening the museum while also earning deep respect and admiration from her peers and museum curators and conservators, whose work deeply interested her.
Ms. Johnson’s extensive gifts to the National Museum of Asian Art include her archives on the art she collected and a significant collection of Ming- and Qing-dynasty textiles, including imperial and court robes and rank badges. She also bequeathed nearly sixty outstanding artworks by contemporary Japanese artists who work in metal. A pioneering collector in this field, Ms. Johnson helped establish the global recognition it receives today.
Ms. Johnson’s visionary bequest to the National Museum of Asian Art also includes the largest single monetary gift to the museum since its founding. This generous gift will endow the Shirley Z. Johnson Curator of Japanese Art, will sponsor visiting Japanese metal artists, and will support other curatorial and conservation projects, carrying her work far into the future.
Ms. Johnson married Willoughby Johnson in 1964, when they were both law students, and divorced him in 1968. In 1979, she married Charles Rumph, an attorney and internationally recognized photographer whose work is found in museums, including gifts by Ms. Johnson to the Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ and the National Sporting Library and Museum, Middleburgh, VA.
She is survived by her sister, Linda Krantz; her niece, Wendy Conlee; her nephew, Art Krantz; five great-nephews and a great-niece; her three stepchildren: Alison Trembly (Ara), Todd Rumph (Ruth Elowitz), and Stephen Rumph; six grandchildren: Natalia Bost, Susanne Lentini, Davida Lentini, Naomi Rumph, Aaron Rumph and Natasja Schneebeli; and numerous great-grandchildren.
She was preceded in death by her husband, Charles Rumph (died 2019); her parents, Arthur and Helen Zaiss (died 2009); and her brother-in-law, Wayne Krantz (died 2020).
A private family burial for Charles and Shirley will be held in Aspen Grove Cemetery.
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