Crystal Johnston

Obituary of Crystal Johnston

After a long illness, Mrs. Crystal Margaret Johnston, 97, wife of the late John C. Johnston, died May 28th at her home in Durham surrounded by family, and her wonderful caregivers, including our UNC Home Hospice team.


Crystal was the consummate hostess and a remarkable woman. She was born in Nebraska and raised in Lusk, Wyoming by Woodson and Lola Graham, a rancher and homemaker, respectively. As a child, Crystal rode to school on horseback, learned to sew, and had a job at the drug store teaching women how to apply make-up. She became a beauty queen in Lusk, and had three siblings: Doris died young, Horace was a rancher like his father, and Audrey stayed in Wyoming, speaking with Crystal by phone every week until Audrey’s passing several years ago. During World War II, Crystal worked for the phone company in California, where her punctuality and intelligence helped her climb the ranks.


Attractive, bright, and effortlessly graceful, she was 29 when she met John Clark Johnston, an up and coming young geologist, who would go on to become a Vice-President and Division Manager with Pan American Oil. John decided on their first date that he would marry Crystal, and he did after a whirlwind three-month courtship. The couple settled in Casper, Wyoming with Crystal’s son Jack McCarthy from an earlier marriage, and a few years later moved to Houston where they raised their own three children, Pam, Clark, and Shannon—who adoringly called their mother Mimi. Those were the happiest twenty years of Crystal’s life. She loved playing bridge, entertaining guests, and dressing elegantly, typically in clothes that she had designed and sewn herself. And of course, Crystal devoted much time to the lives of her children from helping them with their homework to endless hours of chauffeuring them.


Crystal’s own personal version of “Camelot” ended prematurely in 1971 with the unexpected death of her husband, John. For the next forty-seven years, she crafted a new life as a widow. In 1983, Crystal moved to Chapel Hill, where she loved living near her two grandchildren, Terry and Kellam Conover. On Sundays, she would cook the family a meal and say grace for the table; despite having seconds, everyone made extra room for one of her outstanding pies (friends and neighbors raved about her lemon meringue pie and meringue cookies). She volunteered at the Helpline for many years and was a devout member of the University Presbyterian Church for over 34 years. A fierce bridge competitor, she earned over 200 master points and enjoyed seeing friends each week at the Chapel Hill Senior Center bridge games.


Crystal was loved and admired for her warmth, intelligence, and fierce independence—driving around town until the age of 96. At home, she watched hours of the daily news and then worried about the state of the nation, doted on her poodle Chablis, did crosswords with ease, and corresponded with those dearest to her heart. She also loved living her last three years with Pam, and even continued wearing spike high heels and fabulous pantsuits on special occasions. We will miss her smile, impeccable letters, unshakeable optimism, and love.


Crystal is survived by her daughter, Pamela Johnston Conover, and her spouse, Sue Estroff; grandsons, Kellam Conover of Washington, DC, Terry Conover, and his wife, Alison, of Salt Lake City, UT; great grandson, Lucas Conover.


We said goodbye to Johnny in 1971, Shannon in 1984, Jack in 1989, and Clark in 1993. In lieu of flowers, donations in her memory may be made to and


A graveside service will be held on Saturday, June 9, 2018 at 11:00am at Chapel Hill Memorial Cemetery, Legion Road.  Officiating will be Rev. David van Doren.

Walker's Funeral Home of Chapel Hill is assisting the Johnston family.

Share Your Memory of