Diane Johnson was no stranger to challenges.

Coming from a poor background, she had to fight to make a better life for herself. In fact, as her longtime friend Marilyn Cathcart described, “Diane literally came from the wrong side of the tracks.” But that never stopped her from pushing past obstacles and challenges throughout life.

Today, her legacy fund at San Diego Foundation is helping hundreds of individuals like her who work hard but don’t always have the same opportunities.

Striving for Success and Community

At every stage of her life, Diane persevered. No greater example can be found than the success she achieved in her professional life.

While her peers were already well into their careers, Diane was still searching for her calling.

As an adult, she took night classes to complete her law degree. Later, those extra hours and hard work paid off when she became the first in-house, general counsel for St. Jude Medical at a time when women in executive leadership were uncommon.

Yet even as she found greater success in her profession, she didn’t let that change who she was or forget her humble beginnings.

“Diane never lived extravagantly and was the type of person who, no matter how much wealth she had, never let it get it the way of appreciating people for who they really were,” explained Mary Sutton, one of Diane’s former colleagues and close friends.

Everywhere she went, she formed lasting bonds with the people she met, and was remembered for her unmatched ability to nurture friendships. She was both an interesting person and a person interested in others.

And what’s most admirable is that Diane’s work never stopped.

Not surprisingly, after retiring at age 53, Diane channeled her work ethic into her volunteer work. Not one content to write a check, she also spent countless hours supporting her favorite causes: animals, sick children, and those in need of help when most vulnerable.

Her vision for her retirement life was to apply the structure, discipline and talents she had from her professional career to her community volunteer life.

Diane’s interests were broad and her love for the community was deep.

One thing that rang true through all her efforts was her commitment to vulnerable and underserved populations. She volunteered to help people in need through hospice, trauma calls, Meals on Wheels, visits to nursing homes with support animals and was a wish granter with Make-A-Wish Foundation, to name a few of her interests. Coastal German Shepherd Rescue benefited from her tireless support, as did Rancho Coastal Humane Society. She even traveled to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to help with animal rescue.

“That was just the person she was,” shared Marilyn. “Diane had a strong passion for social justice and a civil society. Her volunteer work and her charitable giving always focused on helping people or animals who needed it the most.”

Leaving Her Legacy

When she knew she would soon be passing away, Diane didn’t want to give all her money away at once.

“She wanted her charitable giving to last longer and have a greater impact,” shared Mary. “Most of all, she wanted her philanthropic legacy to mirror the way she lived her life – supporting her community.”

One of the efforts her donor-advised fund at San Diego Foundation has helped support is the Community Scholars Initiative, which helps low-income and first-generation students prepare for, pay for and persist through college.

Thanks to Diane’s legacy fund support, hundreds of San Diego youth can pursue their dreams of higher education and achieve success in their careers.

“Diane was a big believer in hard work and providing all people the same opportunities to succeed,” explained Marilyn. “I just wish she had the opportunity to meet the students whose lives are being changed through the Community Scholars Initiative so she could see the personal impact of her legacy.”

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