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Globe North Obituary

Corinne Johnson, 49, first woman to lead GE's Lynn plant

CORINNE A. JOHNSON CORINNE A. JOHNSON (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/file 2002)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Kathy McCabe
Globe Staff / March 16, 2008

Corinne A. Johnson, the first female general manager at General Electric Co.'s aircraft engine plant in Lynn, walked the shop floor to meet workers. At GE Aviation, based in Cincinnati, she lobbied for the plant to build more engines for fighter jets, attack helicopters, and Marine One, the presidential chopper.

At Girls Inc. of Lynn, where she once served on the board of directors, she encouraged teenage girls to study math and science and think about careers in engineering. She arranged for women engineers at the Lynn plant to teach robotics after school to middle schoolers.

"She was a real advocate for girls," said Patricia Driscoll, executive director of Girls Inc. of Lynn. "She really broke the glass ceiling herself, and wanted them to know anything is possible."

Corinne (Morris) Johnson, a Melrose native, died March 8 at Massachusetts General Hospital. She was 49 and had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November. Her funeral Mass was said Wednesday at St. Augustine Church in Andover. She lived in Andover with her son, James W. Johnson, 16, a sophomore at Andover High School.

At the funeral, the younger Johnson, who plays football, basketball, and lacrosse, remembered his mother as his "number one fan . . . even if she didn't always know the rules," recalled his aunt, Carol Morris Galvin of Topsfield.

His mother was a key player in local business circles. She was a trustee of North Shore Medical Center in Salem, a founding member of the University of Massachusetts Club in Boston, and was a member of the GE Women's Network, which mentors women across all business units of the Connecticut-based company.

As general manager of GE in Lynn, Johnson also held the title of area executive, making her the company's highest-ranking executive in Greater Boston. Jeffrey R. Immelt, chairman and chief executive officer of GE, attended her wake last week at the Burke-Magliozzi Funeral Home in Andover. A corporate plane carried executives from GE Aviation in Cincinnati to attend her funeral.

"That's a tremendous tribute to her," said Timothy Noonan, a retired general manager of the Lynn plant, whom Johnson succeeded. "I think she would have been a big player in the company. I really think she would have become a vice president."

Johnson, who graduated from Melrose High School in 1976, was diagnosed with Hodgkins disease the summer after her freshman year at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She recovered in time to graduate with her class in 1980 with a degree in environmental health. She later earned a master's degree in environmental engineering from Northeastern University. In 1998, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Shortly after, Johnson had heart valve replacement surgery. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer around Thanksgiving 2007, her sister said.

"She gave it a good fight," said Galvin, 48, who is the head of the science department at Reading High School. "This was just one cancer she couldn't beat."

Her battle with serious illness made her corporate rise at GE all the more remarkable, Noonan said.

"To fight cancer as long as she did, and still rise in the corporation, is a testament to the courage and tenacity she had," he said.

Johnson joined GE in 1990 after stints at Avco Corp. and Arthur D. Little. As the Lynn plant's first manager of health and safety, Johnson helped to introduce eco-friendly manufacturing methods and made worker safety a priority.

"She was committed to making this plant a safe place," said Jeffrey Crosby, president of IUE Local 201, the largest labor union at the Lynn plant. "She worked with us to identify problems and work on prevention. . . . We found her to be a principled, straightforward person."

Johnson's strong people skills and sharp engineering mind also won her kudos from GE brass. In 1995, she was promoted to general manager of a small GE components plant in Hookset, N.H. She managed 800 employees in a nonunion shop and earned a master "black belt" in Six Sigma, a manufacturing quality concept. She returned to the Lynn plant in 2001, helping to steer the plant through the fallout of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when commercial engine orders plummeted. In March 2002, she succeeded Noonan as general manager/area executive.

"She brought a lot of work to Lynn," Noonan said. "The plant is doing very well. She did a good job."

In addition to her son and Galvin, her sister, she leaves her parents, James L. and Julia P. "Pat" Morris of Melrose; and two brothers, Steven R. Morris of Glen Ellyn, Ill., and James L. Morris of Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

Burial was in West Parish Cemetery in Andover.

Kathy McCabe can be reached at kmccabe@globe.com.

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