UH degree: MPH ’94 Mānoa
Career: Coordinator, Tobacco Prevention and Education Program, Hawaiʻi State Department of Health
Roots: Turlock, Calif.
Family: Retired physician husband; three stepchildren, one grown son
North American representative: International Network of Women Against Tobacco Executive Board
Hidden talent: Having served on Junior League and American Medical Association boards, she’s a fan of parliamentary law, admitting to being a bit geeky when it comes to Robert’s Rules of Order
Lila Johnson was a newly minted RN fresh out of San Francisco State University in 1968. She’d grown up in an agricultural town where her father was a rancher and her mother, a nurse. She remembers quite distinctly the advice from the father of her then-roommate, who hailed from the islands:“You can be a nurse anywhere. Why not Hawaiʻi?”
Why not indeed?
“I fell in love with the place,” Johnson recalls. She went to work as a nurse, but saw her interests evolving. First, her husband took on a short-term stint as a professor of oncology in Wisconsin, and she grew to respect those in the field, calling them angels.
“I have such an incredible respect for oncology nurses and physicians,” Johnson says. “They have a special feeling for patients.”
She found herself drawn to the prevention side of the cancer equation. After a friend recruited her for one event, her time with the American Cancer Society just seemed to grow. She’s clocked 35 years as a volunteer, including stints as president and board chair in Hawaiʻi. In 2009 she was elected secretary at the national level.
Johnson focuses much of her attention on areas where it can cut the broadest swath: tobacco control, early cancer prevention and detection, to name a few.
While cancer doesn’t lurk in her immediate family, she’s had friends who dealt with the disease. Only recently she learned her grandfather, who had died before she was born, had oral cancer.
“No one deserves it,” Johnson says. “That’s why we take the opportunity to prevent it, to make life better for people.”
She stays healthy by waking at 5 a.m. to walk up the half-mile-long hill by her house, then running down it. Every year on her birthday, she gets her checkup—a practice encouraged by the American Cancer Society, which bills itself the “official sponsor of birthdays.”