It was in the depths of the Great Depression that Robert Wood Johnson II rose to the challenge of assisting employees and other members of his community as they coped with the worst economic disaster ever to befall this country.
His passion was fueled in part by a tough childhood bout with rheumatic fever, which left him with an enlarged heart and repeated adult hospitalizations. Johnson learned firsthand the worst of healthcare.
In December 1936, with 12,000 shares of his own Johnson & Johnson stock—worth about $ 5.4 million in today’s dollars, Johnson endowed the Johnson New Brunswick Foundation. His aim: To help local people down on their luck.
Johnson—known as “the General” ever since he secured the commission of brigadier general in World War II—retained a laser-like focus on health and healthcare. At war’s end, he revived and replenished his philanthropy, renaming it the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) in 1952.
Throughout his life, Robert Wood Johnson II maintained a philosophy of "enlightened self-interest," calling upon business and industry to "accept and fulfill its full share of social responsibility." This principle was expressed in the disposition of his own fortune. Upon his death on January 30, 1968, he left virtually all of it to the Foundation, creating one of the world's largest private philanthropies.
In his writings and in testimony to Congress, the General maintained that the United States could not thrive unless everyone had safe place to work, fair pay, and good health care. His innate understanding of health equity planted the seeds for the Foundation’s vision of building a national Culture of Health rooted in compassion, equity, and respect.