SCARBOROUGH — The Rev. Birger T. Johnson, 88, of Rhode Island Avenue, South Portland, died April 14 at Gosnell Memorial Hospice House.
Born Jan. 16, 1927, the son of Uno and Irene Eriksson Johnson, Birger grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and Montclair, New Jersey.
He was a graduate of Colgate University and Union Theological Seminary.
Johnson began his ministry in 1952 at Union Congregational Church of Upper Montclair, New Jersey. Moving to Maine in 1955, he pastored at the First Congregational Church in Saco. From there he was invited to serve at Woodfords Congregational Church in Portland.
During this period, he also helped found Shalom House, a Portland-based program that provides housing and other help to people with mental illness.
He also served as chaplain at what is now the Long Creek Youth Development Center, a juvenile correctional facility in South Portland. Among his contributions there, he established a donation program with local churches that ensured all the center’s young residents enjoyed Christmas gifts.
Johnson last served as a pastor at Highland Lake Congregational Church in Westbrook. But his service to others also included representing Mainers as a member of the state’s 117th Legislature and serving a term in the state Senate.
Johnson loved sports. He was co-captain of the Montclair High School football team, which won the 1944 New Jersey state championship. He also ran high school and collegiate track, winning medals at Madison Square Garden.
From 1970-1980, he was the Portland handball champion, using skills honed as a youngster in Brooklyn. He also was a lifelong sailor. His last boat was built on an old design from his father’s home province in Finland.
Johnson is survived by his wife, Linda B. Johnson, of South Portland; his stepchildren, Mark Whitney and Donna L. Whitney; his first wife, Carolyn Farrington, of Green Valley, Arizona; his sons, Matthew and Ken; two grandchildren, Clair and Noah; and two brothers, Martin and Torsten.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, April 25, at 11 a.m. at Hobbs Funeral Home, 230 Cottage Road, South Portland.
Interment will be at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in South Portland.