Widow of Ebony Founder Dies

Eunice Johnson died Sunday at age 93

By Sophia Tareen
|  Monday, Jan 4, 2010  |  Updated 9:45 PM CDT
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Widow of Ebony Founder Dies

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Items from the "gift bag" on display at the Ebony Magazine Oscar Party "Hollywood in Harlem."

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Eunice Johnson, the widow of Ebony magazine founder John Johnson and a fashion maven who ran thousands of traveling runway shows aimed at black audiences, has died. She was 93.

Johnson died Sunday of renal failure at her Chicago home, said Wendy Parks, a spokeswoman for the Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Company Inc., on Monday.

Johnson had been the director and producer of the Ebony Fashion Fair since 1961. The traveling high fashion charity event that showcases black designers and models is staged in nearly 200 cities each year. Ads for the show have featured singer Aretha Franklin, and actor Richard Roundtree made his debut as a model with the show.

"I don't know of anyone who brought fashion to the community the way she did," said former model Dori Wilson, who is now a publicist in Chicago.

Wilson said Johnson traveled worldwide to collect clothes for the shows and that designers created special pieces with Johnson and her audience in mind.

"She was a lady who had tremendous style and elegance," Wilson said.

Along with her husband, Johnson developed a popular makeup and skin-care line _ Fashion Fair Cosmetics _ specifically for women of color. The products are sold in many high-end department stores.

She was a secretary-treasurer of Johnson Publishing, which produces JET and Ebony, two of the longest-running black-oriented magazines in the country.

"Mrs. Johnson has always been a woman ahead of her time," the publisher said. "Mrs. Johnson made a tremendous impact on the fashion industry, showcasing the best in style on African-American models of various shapes, sizes and skin tones."

Johnson, an Alabama native, is credited with naming Ebony magazine.

John Johnson died of heart failure in 2005 in Chicago. He founded both magazines after World War II.

In a statement, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley called Johnson "a wonderful mother, faithful wife and business partner and an extraordinary Chicagoan who gave liberally of her time and finances both locally and abroad."

Her daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, is head of the publishing company. Rice declined to comment on Monday.

"Mrs. Johnson will be sincerely missed, and her life and work will continue to be defined by her contributions to the world of fashion and design for years to come," the company said.

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