Lake Charles native, DC court judge dies

Published 6:00 pm Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lake Charles native Norma Holloway Johnson, who claimed her place in history as the first black woman appointed to the federal bench in the nation’s capital, died Sunday in her brother’s Lake Charles home.

She was appointed chief judge of the U.S. District Court in Washington in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter. She served in the position from 1997 to 2001.

In 1970, President Richard Nixon appointed her associate judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

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Johnson presided over several nationally known cases, including independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s investigation into President Bill Clinton that included Clinton’s contact with Monica Lewinsky. She also sentenced former U.S. Rep. Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois after his guilty pleas to mail fraud in 1996.

Johnson’s niece, Loyce Holloway, told the American Press her aunt is her hero.

“She showed young black American women that you can do anything,” Loyce said. “She was the most intelligent woman I have ever known.”

Johnson’s brother, Lionell Holloway Sr., said he believes his sister had an “excellent career and was a very capable woman.”

“She just did exceedingly well,” he said. “The legacy she left is one that anyone would surely be proud of. She was a brilliant woman — she left a legacy of excellence and what is possible.”

Lionell said he has a lot of fond memories from growing up with his sister in Lake Charles.

“We were very close,” he said. “It was just my mother, my father, me and Norma. We grew up when there were wood stoves, well water and outhouses — things were pretty rugged then, but we were happy and we had a good time.”

Some memories Lionell recalls specifically with Norma are going on picnics.

“I hope people remember how kind and caring she was,” he said. “She was strong in her faith. She was just a good person, and I am going to miss her.”

Johnson left Lake Charles at the age of 14 to live with her great-aunt, Bettie Henderson, in Washington D.C.

Johnson graduated from Miner Teacher’s College as valedictorian in 1955 and Georgetown University Law Center in 1962.