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Beloved professor loses cancer battle

Ronie-Richele Garcia-Johnson, an assistant professor of environmental policy and a rising star at the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, died Tuesday evening after a five-month battle with melanoma cancer. She was 34.

A political scientist with a passion for the environment, Garcia-Johnson helped create the multidisciplinary Duke Center for Environmental Solutions and was on her junior sabbatical leave - working on her second book and a number of other projects - at the time of her death.

"She was vibrant, bright and enthusiastic and certainly had an infectious enthusiasm for undergraduates. From the point of view of her professional activities at the school, I put her in the vanguard of interdisciplinary environmental scholars," said Nicholas School Dean William Schlesinger. "The Nicholas School is a very depressed place right now; it's a very quiet day."

A native of Ventura, Calif., Garcia-Johnson graduated from Harvard University magna cum laude in 1991 with a bachelor of arts degree in history and literature. She earned her doctorate in political science from the University of Michigan in 1998 and served as a visiting assistant professor in James Madison College at Michigan State University. In 1999, she joined the University as part of the Nicholas School faculty as an expert in international institutions and policies.

"She was a committed teacher who was passionate about both environmental scholarship and about her students," said Professor of Resource and Environmental Economics Randall Kramer.

Her 2000 book, "Exporting Environmentalism, U.S. Multinational Chemical Corporations in Brazil and Mexico," is a pioneering study of how civil society in the United States exported environmentalist ideas. In recognition, Garcia-Johnson received the 2001 Harold and Margaret Sprout Award from the International Studies Association. The award honors the best book or article published in the previous two years that makes a significant contribution to the study of international environmental policy or political issues.

Professor of Law and of Environmental Policy Jonathan Wiener, who is faculty director of the Center for Environmental Solutions, said Garcia-Johnson was stylish and cheerful, always with a pair of sunglasses perched on her head and an infectious smile spreading across her face.

"She was the faculty colleague you always hoped to meet when you were walking down the hall," he remembered. "She would always have something interesting and friendly to say, and you knew it would be a delightful and stimulating conversation. You always wanted the conversation to keep going."

Garcia-Johnson collaborated in 2001 with two other Duke researchers to coordinate the Seventh Annual Colloquium on Environmental Law and Institutions on "Certification Institutions and Private Governance: New Dynamics in the Global Protection of Workers and the Environment." The colloquium extended her research on certification organizations that provide buyers and consumers guarantees that products are produced in environmentally sound ways.

"Ronie was a dazzling and devoted mother and wife and a gifted scholar, deeply loved and admired by her family, friends, colleagues and students," said Marie Lynn Miranda, Gabel associate professor of the practice in Environmental Ethics and Sustainable Environmental Management, in a statement. "She will be remembered for her strength and character, for her intelligence and wit, for her joyfulness and humor and for her style and immense grace."

Garcia-Johnson also served as a faculty-in-residence in Randolph Dormitory last year. Her character stood out one early morning when, after a disruptive flood in the dormitory, she cooked breakfast for all the residents.

She is survived by her husband, David Paul Johnson, her two daughters, Madeleine Revel and Soleil Holiday Garcia-Johnson, all of Durham; her parents, Connie and Ron Garcia, of Santa Paula, Calif.; her parents-in-law, Marcia and David Johnson, of Ypsilanti, Mich.; her sister and brother-in-law, April and James Osborne, and her nephews, Landin and Nicholas Osborne, of Ventura, Calif.; her grandmother, Esther Magdaleno, of Camarillo, Calif.; her sister-in-law, Julianne Johnson, of Arlington, Va; extended family and many friends.

A memorial service will be held in the Chapel at 11 a.m., Monday, April 21. A reception at the Nicholas School will immediately follow the service.

In addition, friends and colleagues of Garcia-Johnson are planning a memory book - including cards, photographs and messages - to give to the family. Those interested in contributing are invited to write their favorite memories on a card and send it to Ronie Garcia-Johnson Memory Book, c/o Marie Lynn Miranda, Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Box 90328, Durham, N.C. 27708.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Ronie-Richele Garcia-Johnson Melanoma Education Fund. (Make checks payable to Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, c/o Marie Lynn Miranda, Box 90328, Durham, N.C. 27708).