Robert Logan Johnston, center, takes the oath of office with others during a 2011 city of Gardiner inauguration. All three were elected to serve as at-large councilors. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

GARDINER — The people who knew Robert Logan Johnston in the decades that he lived and worked in Gardiner said he embodied public service and what it means to be civic-minded member of the community.

He volunteered his time and effort on city boards and community organizations, they say, and he was among the first to offer help when anyone was in need.

Johnston died unexpectedly Sunday and a cause was not immediately known. He was 69.

Johnston’s friends and colleagues — some longstanding, others just casual — shared their shock and grief Monday. But they also took time to share their appreciation for his humor, his friendship, his music and his contributions to his community and the organizations to which he gave his support.

“Logan’s passing is a tremendous loss to the Gardiner community,” Gardiner Mayor Patricia Hart said Monday. “He was an integral part of so many efforts in the city — city boards, City Council, the Gardiner Food Co-op, Gardiner Main Street, and Johnson Hall.”

State Rep. Thom Harnett, former Gardiner mayor, offered his condolences on Facebook.

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Logan Johnston was truly one of those special people who was everywhere and did everything,” Harnett wrote. “Logan was Gardiner and Gardiner is a better place because of him.”

A native of California, Johnston came to Gardiner after attending Harvard University and working in Boston.

Johnston’s interests and service were broad. Among other things, he was elected to the Gardiner City Council and had been appointed to served on the city’s Planning Board, its Parks and Recreation Committee and its Board of Assessment Review.

He also served on the Gardiner Food Co-op board and was on the Kennebec County Committee of the Maine Community Foundation.

Robert Logan Johnston strolls across the trestle over Cobbossee Stream in Randolph in 2012. Johnston, a city councillor at the time, has died unexpectedly. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

Johnston and his wife Phyllis Gardiner had volunteered their time and efforts for four decades to bring about the renovation of the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center. Most recently, Johnston had served as the co-chairman of the capital campaign that has a goal of raising nearly $ 8 million to pay for renovating and upgrading the state’s oldest opera house.

“We have always recognized that we would not be where we are if not for Phyllis and Logan,” Michael Miclon, executive artistic director of Johnson Hall, said Monday. “When other people stepped away, they stepped up. This project is where it is because of them.”

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Johnston, who was a founder of the rebirth of Johnson Hall, did a bit of everything for the organization, Miclon said, from reviewing contracts to advocating to city officials for support for the project.

During a recent Zoom meeting about the escalating prices for the renovation projects, Miclon said, Johnston got emotional, saying how long he had been involved in the project and that he was not giving up.

“I thought, my God, after 40 years if he could still have that level of emotion, that says a lot about who he is,” Miclon said. “He was still passionate about the importance of the project and he didn’t care that it took this long. He knew it was going to take the time it took.”

Robert Logan Johnston, center, and his wife, Phyllis Gardiner, drive a heifer from a chute at their farm, Oaklands Farm, in Gardiner in 2013. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

Johnston was also a farmer, operating Oaklands Farm with Gardiner on Gardiner family land. The farm produced forage crops that were organically certified, and it has also been home to a Hereford-Angus cross cow-calf operation. The farm’s beef products are available locally at retail outlets and restaurants. Gardiner’s A1 Diner serves the Oakland Farms Burger, made from the grass-fed beef raised on the farm.

Through the farm, he was drawn to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, where he served for more than a decade as a board member and treasurer, and on the board’s Finance Committee.

“The biggest thing about Logan is what a warm and loving and respectful and dedicated person he was to our organization,” Heather Spalding, MOFGA’s deputy director, said Monday. “He provided a steady and reassuring presence to everybody. He always had time for people. He always took time to stop and visit or tell a funny story … and to be positive and encouraging and help us stay focused.”

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Spalding said she saw him last in Augusta while the Maine State Legislature was in session, and they talked about new ideas and projects that he wanted to work on.

Sisters Holly Burnes, right, and Phyllis Gardiner attempt to persuade a hog to move into a new paddock at the Oaklands Farm in Gardiner in 2012. Gardiner and her husband, Logan Johnston, left, and Burnes’ husband, Dan, erected an electric fence around a fresh plot for the pigs to root on land that the Gardiner family has cultivated since the 18th century. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal file

While at MOFGA, she said Johnston used his business acumen to guide the organization through a time of transition and growth and helped build MOFGA’s endowment and add staff.

In addition, Johnston and Gardiner hosted journeypersons, giving them experience to be able to start farms of their own, she said.

Johnston had also been a publisher, he had operated Tilbury House publishers.

In addition to Gardiner, Johnston leaves behind their son Phillip, his wife and a grandchild.

“He was generous in spirit, gentle in demeanor and kind to all,” said Hart, the Gardiner mayor. “Logan leaves a long legacy of service to our community. Gardiner is a better place and we are better people for knowing him. I will miss my dear friend.”

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