Mint Director Jay Johnson Remembers, Part 3

Jay Johnson, director of the Mint in 2000 and 2001, passed away in mid-October of 2009. He was a fine friend, always willing to help with research or anything else. As a tribute to his memory we now conclude our sharing of some of his comments contributed to The Official Red Book of Washington Quarters, by Q. David Bowers, Whitman Publishing LLC, 2007.
This week we tell of one of Jay’s first official experiences. Johnson was confirmed as Mint director by vote of the U.S. Senate May 24. He was sworn in by Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers, May 25 and on May 26 he was in Columbia, S.C., for the ceremonial debut of the South Carolina quarter. U.S. Treasurer Mary Ellen Withrow and Johnson helped South Carolina governor Jim Hodges launch the coin at ceremonies at Dutch Fork Elementary School.
To start the event, Hodges presented the new quarter to students. Attributing the success of the coin program to the youth of the nation, Withrow said, “Many of the ideas for the South Carolina quarter design came from elementary students who are enthusiastic about our nation’s culture and history.” For Johnson, it was his first public appearance in his new job. He had been sworn in just the day before.
Director Johnson remembered the event:
I studied all about coins and the entire 50-state quarter program while waiting to be confirmed as Director of the Mint.… I walked into the Mint offices the day after I was sworn in, and said, “Isn’t there a quarter launch in South Carolina tomorrow, and shouldn’t I be there?” Some staff member looked at me with surprise, and said, “Isn’t this kind of sudden?”
I said I assume that I have to give a little speech, and somebody’s probably already written it, so I think I can read a speech successfully. They asked again if I wanted to really go to South Carolina the next day. I said yes. They made arrangements to get tickets, and I was there in Columbia, South Carolina the next day. Ironically, I had been in Columbia before. I spent about six weeks there in basic training in the US Army in 1966. So, I had lots to talk about with the local folks—about how Fort Jackson had changed a lot since I was there 34 years ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough time to get on the old Army base and check out the barracks where I spent a hot summer, but I thought it was a great start for my first 50 state quarter launch.
Amazing to some Mint folks with me, I was able to handle the print and radio and TV interviews about the greatness of the 50 State Quarter Program, even though it was only my second full day on the job. I also recently found some of the South Carolina quarters that I was supposed to hand out that day![1]

[1] Letter to the author, July 27, 2004.

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