Family Snapshots: A three-decades journey at Johns Hopkins

For more than 60 years, Hopkins employees could count on running into a member of the John Bourgeois family

Five family members: John Bourgeois Jr., Jeannine Bourgeois Wills, Betty Michel Bourgeois with a photograph of the late John Bourgeois Sr. (taken when he received his doctorate in environmental engineering), Michelle Bourgeois Johnson, and Lauren J. Brusak.

Image caption: John Bourgeois Jr., Jeannine Bourgeois Wills, Betty Michel Bourgeois with a photograph of the late John Bourgeois Sr. (taken when he received his doctorate in environmental engineering), Michelle Bourgeois Johnson, and Lauren J. Brusak.


You might call this The Tale of the Family Hopkins. And now the story comes to an end. After three generations and more than 60 years, there is no longer a member of the Bourgeois family at Johns Hopkins.

"The end of an era for our family," said Michelle Bourgeois Johnson of her brother John's April farewell party at the Bloomberg School of Public Health. "The first time in [about] 62 years that a member of our family is not working at a Hopkins institution."

In 1960, just before the Kennedy administration, John Gustave Bourgeois Sr. arrived at what was then called the School of Hygiene and Public Health from his native New Orleans to do research with Dr. Ernest Bueding.

[Note: Dr. Bueding (1910–1986)—who discovered a cure for potentially fatal tropical diseases—was a scientific pen pal with the great Albert Schweitzer. Portions of their correspondence are archived in the university's Sheridan Libraries.]

"We have a big family in New Orleans, and they thought we were crazy for moving," says Michelle, who began as a Hopkins candy-striper in 1970. "Dad said we'd give Baltimore a try for a couple of years. Never moved back."

Bourgeois Sr., who earned his Doctor of Science degree at Hopkins in 1980, had a long career as an assistant professor in Public Health's Department of Pathobiology.

His wife—Betty Michel Bourgeois, who survives him at age 90—began working at Hopkins in 1970 as an at-home typist for research papers and theses. She later worked as a secretary in the old Harriet Lane Clinic, the first hospital in the country devoted to children. Betty retired in 1982 as an executive assistant in Pathobiology.

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Three of John and Betty's children and one grandchild—an entire nest of Blue Jays—followed the couple to jobs on Wolfe Street and at Homewood. The streak ended in late April, when John Gustave Bourgeois' namesake son—financial analyst John Jr.—retired from Public Health. Along with an initial decade at the School of Medicine, he had logged more than four decades of service.

John's retirement took place on his last day at Public Health, and while he knew his colleagues were up to something, he wasn't prepared for the lavish "Nawlins" send-off.

"A bang-up job, a Mardi Gras theme because I'm from New Orleans," he said from his condo in Ocean City, where he is settling in to read rock star memoirs (beginning with Little Steven Van Zandt) and learn the fine art of doing nothing.

"They served gumbo, jambalaya, and muffulettas, and each table was dressed in green, gold, and purple with Carnival masks and beads," he said, praising the authentic cuisine from Chesapeake Food Works.

It was the French Quarter on the 600 block of North Wolfe Street except for music: no jazz, no zydeco. "Probably," he joked, "to keep me from jumping up and dancing."

John Jr. was 28 when his father died in 1985 of heart disease at age 53. Asked what it was like to follow his father down the same halls where so much good work was done, John Jr. called it "very humbling."

"When I first started out, so many people would say they knew my dad, and they all said good things. Sometimes they'd say I looked like him, and I took that as a great compliment."

A fine, respected career. But John Jr. can't lay claim to racing his best friend through the tunnels under Monument Street in a wheelchair. That feat belongs to his (slightly) older sister, Michelle, whose Hopkins career as a candy-striper lasted some 20 years.

Michelle's early teen years as a volunteer at Kennedy-Krieger began when her best friend, a girl who used a wheelchair, was a patient there. Michelle knew her way around the hospital because her parents worked there, and together the two girls had a ball.

"I'd break her out of her room and race her through the tunnels under Monument Street that connected Kennedy to the Hopkins Children's Center," she said. "Her condition definitely heightened my interest in health care."

Her friend died not long after those madcap runs around the venerable institution. Michelle entered Johns Hopkins as an undergraduate in 1976—her bachelor's degree financially supported by Hopkins, as were her father's various degrees (bachelor's in life sciences, master's of public health, and doctorate in environmental engineering) and her brother's undergraduate degree. While at the university, she took a summer job as a keypunch operator, digitizing the library card catalog in Public Health's Department of Population Dynamics.

"I was part of a team that created one of the first electronic medical records in the country," she said. Michelle then worked with computerized scheduling in Medicine's Department of Anesthesiology before managing clinical information in the old oncology building that was razed to make way for the Weinberg Building, which opened in 2000. When her Hopkins career ended in 2019, she was the hospitalwide manager of computerized provider order entry.

When first starting at Johns Hopkins, Michelle drove back and forth to the East Baltimore campus with her parents, often meeting them for lunch at the hospital or for a short walk to the Northeast Market on Monument Street, where the potato chip stand was a regular stop.

Her sister—Jeannine Bourgeois Wills, the youngest of the Bourgeois children—followed as a volunteer in the Admitting Office. "We'd have lunch in the old Corridor Cafe," said Jeannine, also a part of the family carpool. "I was 14 and, maybe because I was the baby, they thought I was too young to be left alone at home."

During college, Jeannine worked as a paid employee for a Hopkins ear, nose and throat physician who also performed head and neck surgery. When her father—John Sr.—died, Jeannine left nursing school, got married, and started a family. Her health care career continued apart from Hopkins, with 28 years as an administrator at a sports medicine and orthopedic center in Rosedale.

The last Bourgeois family member to work at Hopkins was Michelle's daughter, Lauren Johnson Brusak, granddaughter of the man who decided long ago to take a chance on Baltimore for a few years to see if it would work out.

"I always enjoyed working at Hopkins knowing the family legacy," said Brusak, who was 2 years old when John Bourgeois Sr. died and later was a financial analyst at the Bloomberg School. "My Hopkins career gave me a [greater] connection to [my grandfather]. And my Uncle John and I worked in Finance at the same time and always joked about whether I should respond to emails with or without [using the word] 'Uncle.'"

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