Max Johnson, a 1959 graduate and all-conference performer in both basketball and baseball, holds the distinction of being the last four-sport letterman at Whitman. He earned a total of 10 athletic letters – four each in basketball and baseball and one each in track & field and football. He served as a team captain in both basketball and baseball.
Johnson, a 6-foot-2 forward in basketball, scored in double figures in each of his four seasons, leading the squad in points as a junior and senior. He was Whitman’s career scoring leader at the time of his graduation with 1,354 points, and he still ranks seventh among the school’s all-time leading scorers.
In basketball, however, Johnson made his primary mark on the backboards. Combining desire, leaping ability and a knack for reading missed shots, Johnson outworked taller opponents to lead the Northwest Conference in rebounding in his final three seasons. His school records for single season and career rebounds still stand, more than four decades after he set them. He pulled down a total of 1,151 rebounds in 99 career games, an average of 11.6 per contest. He snared 385 rebounds as a senior, averaging 14.8 boards per game to rank among the NAIA national leaders. He claimed All-Conference First Team honors as a senior and junior, after earning second-team recognition as a sophomore.
Primarily a centerfielder in baseball, Johnson was described in his college yearbook as a “speedy ball hawk with an arm of cannon velocity.” He earned All-Conference First Team honors as a freshman, junior and senior. Covering for an injured teammate, he played shortstop for a handful of games to conclude his senior campaign.
Johnson earned his varsity letter in track & field as a junior, after catching the attention of Bill Martin, Whitman’s legendary track coach, during an intramural competition. Noticing that Johnson was clearing a greater height than his varsity high jumper, Martin persuaded him to compete with the track team when his baseball schedule allowed. He placed third in the conference championships that season in the high jump, clearing 6-feet, one-half inch, as Whitman won the team title. He also placed in the broad jump at the conference meet. As a senior, Johnson competed in a few track meets but skipped the season-ending meets, including the conference championships, to concentrate on graduate school applications.
Forbidden by his high school basketball coach to play prep football, Johnson finally donned the pads during his senior year at Whitman. He quickly moved into a starting role as both a wide receiver on offense and defensive halfback on defense.
Johnson, known as “Red Dog” in reference to the color of his hair, capped his college career by winning the 1959 Borleske Trophy, which is given annually to the top male athlete at Whitman.
The son of a school teacher, Johnson came to Whitman after graduating from Nampa (Idaho) High School. An economics major, he earned Phi Beta Kappa honors at Whitman and served as president of his senior class. After earning a master’s degree in economics at Claremont College, Johnson embarked on a long career in the telecommunications industry. He retired as a vice president with U.S. West Direct in 1992 and then spent eight years as a senior vice president of Product Development Corp., retiring in 2001.
Following lengthy service on Whitman's Board of Overseers (1971-1986), Johnson served on the Board of Trustees from 1986 through 1995. He continues as a trustee emeritus. Johnson and his wife, Margaret Iversen Johnson (Whitman Class of 1958), make their home in Bellevue, Wash. They have two grown daughters -- Laurie Johnson Riley, who graduated magna cum laude from Whitman in 1983, and Lisa Johnson Moore, a 1985 graduate of Southern Methodist University.Back to main news release