Martin Wesley Johns, Professor Emeritus of Physics, died on September 18, 2008, aged 95, following a stroke the previous week. Until that brief illness he had been remarkably fit and alert.
Martin was born on March 23. 1913 in Chengdu, West China the eldest of five children born to Myrtle and Alfred Johns. His parents were missionaries of the Methodist Church of Canada, his father serving as the professor of mathematics in the West China Union University, and his mother as the principal of a Girl’s School in Chengdu. He attended the Canadian School in West China, passing the Ontario High School entrance examination at the end of 1924. The family came to Canada on a year’s leave in early 1925. Unrest in China prevented the family from returning, so they remained in Canada. Martin attended high schools in Exeter (Ontario), Tacoma (Washington), Vancouver (British Columbia) and Brandon (Manitoba), while his father was the professor of Mathematics at Brandon College from 1927 to 1931, when he joined the mathematics department at McMaster. Martin completed the first three years of his Bachelor’s program at Brandon College and obtained his B.A. and M.A. degrees from McMaster in 1932 and 1934 respectively. He obtained his doctorate in physics from the University of Toronto in 1938.
Martin’s first academic position was in Physics at Brandon College, a small institution affiliated with McMaster University and supported by the Baptist Convention. He spent nine years in Brandon, before moving in 1946 to Chalk River, the nuclear research laboratory on the Ottawa River, and then to McMaster University in 1947. He was elected a member of the Royal Society of Canada in 1962 and received honorary doctorates in Science from Brandon University (1972) and McMaster University (1994).
During the thirty one years that he was a member of the McMaster Physics Department, he and his graduate students published about one hundred papers on nuclear structure. During these years, McMaster grew from a small (500 student) institution with an Arts and Science Faculty focused on teaching, to a large, multi-faculty institution with about 10,000 students. During this period, Martin presided over the growth of the Physics department for 12 years, and spent four years as McMaster’s Coordinator of Part Time Degree Studies. His first chairmanship, from 1961-67, spanned the period of most rapid growth of the Department, from six to 24 faculty. The graduate program in Physics grew rapidly as well, peaking at over 100 in 1969. The Tandem Accelerator was secured and the Tandem Laboratory construction begun during that time. Martin was succeeded by Bert Brockhouse, but returned to the chair from 1970-76. This was a period of slow growth in science, with very few new faculty appointments. Nonetheless, he secured two positions, filled by Bill Harris and Peter Sutherland, who were the foundation of the very successful astrophysics group. Martin’s wise leadership was credited with making the McMaster Physics department a very harmonious one, and the best for its size in the country.
His interests outside the University resulted in his being named “Hamilton’s Distinguished Citizen of the Year” in 1979. For many years he was involved with the United Way of Hamilton/Burlington, and the Family Service movement of Canada at the local, provincial and national levels. He was also an active member of the United Church of Canada at the local and national levels. After a career in Physics, he turned his attention to writing family history. His first book, “Bamboo Sprouts and Maple Buds,” dealt with his early life in China. The second, “Sugaring Off,” is a tribute to the author’s parents who did such a good job of “Sugaring Off” five obstreperous and lively children. The third volume, “In Praise of a Small College”, recounts his experiences during the years at Brandon, which encompassed the depression and the war. These books are available from ``Titles”, the McMaster bookstore.