Cover photo for Peggy Johnson's Obituary
Peggy Johnson Profile Photo
1922 Peggy 2023

Peggy Johnson

March 26, 1922 — December 9, 2023

Peggy Kalpakian Johnson was famous for her hospitality, her Armenian cooking, her superhuman typing skills, her sociable nature, her charm, her fashion sense, and the love she gave, without stint or limitation, or reserve to those she loved. Her life was often a rocky road, though outwardly, one would never have guessed as much. She was also known for her unflagging good manners.

Peggy lived to be almost 102 years old, and she enjoyed remarkably good health for nearly all of those years. Even after suffering a heart attack in January 2021, and requiring a wheelchair, she had good health and good spirits until the very last months before her death on December 9, 2023.

A TUMULTUOUS BACKGROUND

Peggy’s Armenian parents, Haroutune and Haigouhi, married in 1917 in Adana, southeastern Turkey amid the upheavals of the Great War. In 1921 they fled Adana, going first to Syria, and thence to Constantinople where she was born Pakradouhi Kalpakian on March 26, 1922. The following year, her family—her parents, her four-year-old sister, Angagh, and her mother’s younger brother—immigrated to America. They were turned away at Ellis Island (their papers say deported) because they had come third class and the first class and second class passengers filled up the quotas from Southern Europe. They returned to the ship which went to Piraeus, Greece where they waited for two weeks for another ship to the US. This time they went second class. In October 1923 they arrived in America. From New York they rode the train to Los Angeles where the Boyds (formerly Boyajian), Haigouhi’s sister, and her husband had already settled, and had sponsored their emigration.

The Kalpakians lived at first in a gardener’s cottage on the grounds of the Boyd residence in Venice, California and here a third daughter, Betty, was born in early 1924. The Boyd children thought Pakradouhi was too much of a mouthful, so they named her Peach Face, and then Peggy, after a silent film star, Baby Peggy. She changed her name legally to Peggy Kalpakian when, at age 21, she got her naturalized citizenship papers.

Her parents became naturalized citizens in 1931, the same year they bought a house not far from the mom-and-pop grocery store they owned. Both parents worked. A fourth daughter, Harriett, was born in 1935. Peggy and her sisters had a happy childhood, despite the Depression besetting the country. She attended George Washington High School where she was the first female editor of the student newspaper. In 1939, she won a contest as the best typist in the whole Los Angeles School District. She graduated in 1940 with honors.

UNIVERSITY YEARS AND WARTIME ROMANCE

Peggy had hoped for a career in journalism, but when she applied to Los Angeles papers, she was told to look to the typing pool. She took her exemplary secretarial skills to a bank that was near the University of Southern California. Her great dream was to attend USC, but it was a private school and far more expensive than UCLA where her older sister, Angagh, had gone. The banker, for whom she worked, a USC alum, sponsored her for a scholarship to USC. Beginning in 1942 she was able to attend, using her savings, working part time, and with help from her parents. Though her passion was always for history and literature, Peggy majored in business, imagining a career in banking. These USC years were especially happy ones. She worked hard, studied, had a part time job, and made friends she kept for life.

However, the world was deep at war by 1942 and inevitably the war touched her life. In March 1944 at a USO dance she danced with handsome Bill Johnson who was serving in the Navy. He was a pharmacist’s mate on the aircraft carrier, Baroka Sea. Bill was at the dance with his best friend from the navy, Sidney Finegold, whose family lived in Los Angeles. Bill asked for her phone number, and naturally Miss Kalpakian declined, though she did tell him she taught Sunday School at the Wilshire Methodist Church. He could find her there on Sunday. Bill did not show up, but he wrote a postcard. Peggy was fond of telling how all the church ladies read the postcard and giggled before it got to her. Bill and Peggy went out dancing again and again. They fell in love, and Peggy brought him home to meet her Armenian family. Bill was from a sprawling Mormon clan in upcountry Idaho, but he adored the very urban, immigrant Kalpakians. In September 1944, Bill and Peggy were married at a ceremony held at the naval base. Her sisters, Angagh and Betty, were her bridesmaids. Sidney Finegold was Bill’s best man.

Bill and Peggy had three short months together before he shipped out for the South Pacific. Peggy returned to her parents’ house to await the birth of their first child. She felt she had to drop out of USC because, she said, in that era, pregnant women did not go to college. Not getting her university degree was one of the great disappointments of Peggy’s life, though she seldom spoke of it. Their eldest daughter arrived in June 1945. They named her Peggy Ann after her mother.

POSTWAR YEARS

Bill returned from the Pacific in October 1945, and their postwar life began. Bill used the GI Bill to go to Cal and get a master’s degree in public health. They lived in student housing. He went to the university during the day while Peggy stayed with the baby. At night she worked processing checks and he stayed with the baby. Life was stressful all round, except perhaps for the oblivious baby.

In 1947 Bill went to work for the Red Cross, first at Fort Ord, and then in Great Falls Montana. Here their first son, Douglas, was born in 1950 during a brutal snowstorm. At the end of that year, they happily returned to Southern California. They lived briefly in a housing project until Bill got a job with Lederle Laboratories as a sales rep. They bought a new tract home in the San Fernando Valley where two more children were born to them: Helen in 1952 and Brian in 1957. They lived on Beckford Avenue in Reseda for seven happy years until Bill was transferred to San Bernardino, California. They bought a house in SB and lived there for 30 years.

In the mid-1960s, having stayed home with her children for nearly 20 years, Peggy returned to work, taking secretarial jobs where her stellar skills were in high demand. She became executive secretary to the head of orthopedics at the County Hospital.

Her remarkable skills at the keyboard also went in service of her daughter’s literary work.
Her eldest daughter always knew she wanted to be a writer, and when she was nine, she asked her mother if she would type her books. Peggy said yes. And so it was: Peggy typed countless novels and stories, often many times over, even during those years when she was working full-time for the county. When Peggy Ann became an author, she changed her name to Laura Kalpakian in honor of her mother’s family. Mother and daughter were an excellent team for decades and saw many books and stories into print together.

BELLINGHAM YEARS

Peggy retired from the county in 1986. Bill had already retired and in 1987 they sold their house and moved to Bellingham, Washington where Laura and her two sons, Bear and Brendan McCreary, lived. Laura was a Visiting Writer at Western at the time. In 1988 all five moved to England, and thence to Italy for four months, where Laura taught in an international program.

In Bellingham Peggy was deeply involved in the lives of her grandsons, attending all their musical and theatrical events, recitals, parades, and plays. She became universally known as Maudie, the affectionate name bestowed on her by an adoring family and echoed by all their friends. Maudie brightened the lives of everyone who knew her. She joined a lively walking group who met every morning for walks around the track. She took pleasure in walks at Boulevard Park and Marine Park. She took piano lessons, read voraciously, and loved going to the movies. In 1991 Peggy’s youngest son Brian moved to Bellingham as well.

In 1997 Bear went to USC, graduating in 2002. Brendan also went to USC, graduating in 2006. In 2008 her grandsons petitioned the USC Alumni Association for an honorary alumni status for their grandmother who had been within one semester of graduating when she dropped out. USC granted her this, formally inducting Peggy Kalpakian Johnson into the Trojan family with a framed certificate.

After Bill Johnson’s death in 2012, Peggy found a new calling. In her 90s she became a writer. She was an active and much-beloved presence among the Red Wheelbarrow Writers, a loose writerly collective in Bellingham. She published memoirs in two of their anthologies, and in the April 2016 issue of the USC alumni magazine. In 2019 Threshold Editions brought out her book, Centennial Memoir, which described the old country lives of her parents, her family’s tribulations in emigrating, her sunny Los Angeles childhood during the Depression, and her whirlwind wartime romance. It also has some of her famous recipes. In 2022, in time for her 100th birthday celebration, Sidekick Press published a follow up, Centennial Memoir II, that chronicled her postwar life and times. Centennial Memoir II is dedicated to her eldest son, Douglas, who died of liver cancer in California in January 2021.

Five days after her son’s death, Peggy suffered a heart attack. She stayed in the hospital for four or five days. For recovery she went to Shuksan Healthcare nursing home where she worked very hard with physical therapy and made new friends. She lived out the rest of her life there, well looked after, and cared for, her needs met by a cheerful and attentive staff.

Peggy leaves behind her son, Brian Johnson and his wife Lynda Johnson, daughter Helen Johnson, daughter Laura Kalpakian McCreary, grandson Brendan McCreary and his daughter Zai Pakradouhi McCreary, grandson Bear McCreary and his wife Raya Yarbrough, their daughter Sonatine and their son Arakel who was born in January 2023 and met his great-grandmother on her 101st birthday. She also had two honorary daughters, Terry Harrington and Margaret Ann Marchioli, and a much-beloved niece, Patty Stephenson. She outlived all of her generation, save for one cousin, Armine Kaloustian of Lyon, France, whom she was able to meet via Zoom in 2018.

We, her immediate family, were blessed to live in her orbit. None of us would be the people we are without Maudie in our lives. She was a ballast, a sure and certain source of loyalty, love, support, and wisdom for each and all of us. Her loss, in these dark December days, leaves what feels like a tear in the fabric of the known world.

If hope is a thing with feathers, then grief is a spiraled shell.

A memorial service will be held in the spring.
To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Peggy Johnson, please visit our flower store.

Guestbook

Photo Gallery

Visits: 3

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the
Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Service map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

Send Flowers

Send Flowers

Plant A Tree

Plant A Tree