Robert Wood “General” Johnson
It was during the Great Depression that Robert Wood Johnson II rose to the challenge of assisting employees of Johnson & Johnson and other members of his community as they coped with the worst economic disaster to ever impact this country.
He was driven in part by a childhood bout with rheumatic fever, which left him with an enlarged heart and repeated adult hospitalizations. Johnson experienced firsthand the shortcomings of healthcare in America.
In December 1936, with 12,000 shares of his own Johnson & Johnson stock—worth about $5.4 million today—Johnson endowed the Johnson New Brunswick Foundation. His aim was modest: to help local people down on their luck.
Johnson—known as “the General” since securing the commission of brigadier general in World War II—retained a sharp focus on upgrading health and health care. At war’s end, he revived and replenished his philanthropy, renaming it the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) after his father, in 1952.
By the early 1960's, Johnson had his own agenda for system reform and quality improvement: patient care comes first; tear down the “rigid caste system” that impedes hospital fairness and efficiency; give nurses a greater say in patient care; professionalize nursing; and give scholarships to underserved students for careers.
Throughout his life, Robert Wood Johnson II maintained a philosophy of what he called "enlightened self-interest," calling upon business and industry to accept and fulfill its full share of social responsibility. This principle was expressed in the disposition of his own fortune. Upon his death on January 30, 1968, he left virtually all of it to the Foundation, creating one of the world's largest private philanthropies.