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First Nurse Elected to Congress, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Passes Away

Eddie Bernice Johnson, the first nurse elected to Congress and the first Black Chief Psychiatric Nurse at the Dallas V.A. hospital, died on December 29, 2023, at the age of 88.  Johnson was a lifelong public servant who blazed a path for nurses, people of color, and women in politics as she represented Texas’ 30th Congressional District for over 30 years. During her time in Congress, she was a staunch advocate for healthcare, education, economic development, and civil rights.

Johnson’s son posted a heartfelt tribute to his mother on Facebook. 

“I am heartbroken to share the news that my mother, Eddie Bernice Johnson, has passed away.  She was a remarkable and loving mother, mother-in-law, grandmother and great grandmother, as well as a trailblazer and public servant.

While we mourn the loss of an extraordinary woman, we celebrate her life and legacy.  She will be deeply missed. 

Funeral services are pending.”

According to her biography, Johnson began her career as a nurse in 1955, when she completed her nursing certificate, and later became the first Black chief psychiatric nurse and psychotherapist at the Veterans Administration hospital in Dallas, Texas. Johnson was elected into The Texas House of Representatives in 1972. 

  • Graduated from A.J. Moore High School, Waco, Tex., 1952
  • Nursing certificate, St. Mary’s College at the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Ind., 1955
  • B.S., Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Tex., 1967
  • M.P.A., Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Tex., 1976
  • Chief psychiatric nurse and psychotherapist, Veterans Administration Hospital, Dallas, Tex.
  • Member of the Texas state house of representatives, 1972-1977
  • Administrator, United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1977-1981
  • Member of the Texas state senate, 1986-1992
  • Elected as a Democrat to the One Hundred Third and to the fourteen succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1993-January 3, 2023)
  • Chair, Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (One Hundred Sixteenth and One Hundred Seventeenth Congresses.
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Her experiences as a nurse shaped her priorities as a policymaker. She fought to expand healthcare access, especially for women, children, and minorities. She helped pass legislation like the Affordable Care Act and worked to reduce healthcare disparities across populations.

Johnson was devoted to serving the needs of the Dallas community. She secured federal funding for transportation and infrastructure projects, including highways, public transit, and Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. She also worked to bring economic opportunities to her district, helping local businesses access government contracts and pushing for development in underserved areas.

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President Joe Biden released a statement, remembering Johnson for her “commitment to the promise of America.” The President stated, “Eddie Bernice turned a childhood dream to work in medicine into a lifetime of service, fighting to get millions of Americans access to healthcare, education, and opportunity.”

Serena Bumpus, DNP and Chief Executive Officer of the Texas Nurses Association, remembered Johnson with a post on LinkedIn

“Texas nurses mourn the loss of Eddie Bernice Johnson, the first registered #nurse  elected to Congress and the first Black chief psychiatric nurse at Dallas’ Veterans Affair hospital. She had a career of “firsts” as the first Black woman to chair the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and  to lead the Congressional Black Congress. Representative Johnson paved the way and influenced other #nurses and persons of color to run for office at the local, state, and national levels. A proud Texas nurse and notably one of the most powerful and respected Democrats in the country, Representative Johnson’s public service is admired and will be greatly missed. May her legacy live on through those pursuing public office and fighting for equality for everyone.”

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Johnson’s cause of death has not been released.

 

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