Tsunami survivor Jeanne Johnston shares story

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Jeanne Branch Johnston was born on the Big Island of Hawaii in the sleepy town of Hilo. She had the spirit of adventure in her genes from the very beginning. Johnston’s father, Willard Hogle Branch, was Airport Manager for Pan American on Midway Island where she spent the first year of her life. Her mother, Betty Mason, grew up in Ola’a (now called Kea’au) along with her 4 siblings.

Johnston co-founded, along with Dr. Walter Dudley, the Pacific Tsunami Museum located in Hilo at 130 Kamehameha Avenue. She collected many oral histories of first-hand accounts from tsunami survivors in Maui County. The project was funded by a grant from the Fred Baldwin Foundation. Johnston then began working with Dr. Dudley and Michael Childers on an oral history project for the Pacific Tsunami Museum. They interviewed and archived over 450 video oral histories of tsunami survivors from Hawaii, Alaska, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Maldives. The oral histories are archived at the Pacific Tsunami Museum in Hilo, Hawaii.

Johnston returned to school in 1999 when she was 60 and received a BS in Business Management. She went on to receive a Masters in Communication from the University of Hawaii – Manoa. She graduated in the same ceremony as her daughter, Malia Bervar, who received her Juris Doctor from Richardson School of Law. They were the first mother-daughter duo to receive graduate degrees together in the same ceremony at the UH Manoa.

Johnston then took a position as Earthquake, Tsunami and Lava Flow Manager for the State of Hawaii Civil Defense. After three years with the state, she moved on to a job with FEMA where she has worked for 12 years. She currently works in the FEMA Region 9, Pacific Area Office in Honolulu as a Mitigation Grants Specialist.

Johnston also writes short stories and her photography has been shown in galleries in Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest. Her hobbies include travel, genealogy research, hiking and swimming. She enjoys spending time with her son and daughter and traveling with her grandchildren.