Honoring Ray and Marilyn Johnson for their PSU accounting legacy

Ray and Marilyn Johnson

“Portland State University is a special place and its mission is of such critical importance to Oregon — the university’s work has a generational impact on so many lives,” remarks Ray Johnson, professor emeritus of PSU’s accounting program, and the first recipient of the Harry C. Visse Excellence in Teaching Fellowship. “Our students are incredible, diverse, hardworking, mature and hungry to learn. It’s truly been a privilege for Marilyn and me to be a part of this community for so many years.”

Countless accounting alumni and industry veterans credit Ray and Marilyn for helping shape their careers, and for furthering the accounting profession in Portland and beyond. The Johnsons’ PSU accounting legacy, which spans  43 years, is hallmarked with a clear devotion to student success, dedication to student mentorship and industry engagement, and a commitment to philanthropy. 

Throughout his career, Ray served in roles that have shaped the accounting profession in Oregon, nationally and internationally. Ray’s activities include serving as past chair of the Consultative Advisory Group to the International Accounting Education Standards Board, a past President of the Oregon Society of CPAs, a Past Chair of the Oregon Board of Accountancy, a past member of the AICPA Professional Ethics Executive Committee, the NASBA/AICPA International Qualifications Appraisal Board, and the NASBA Board of Directors. In addition, he has chaired or served on numerous committees charged with addressing various accounting profession or accounting education issues. Ray helped build PSU’s accounting program and the next generation of faculty leadership, which shaped the program’s vision for the future. 

Although he’s been retired for a few years, Ray continues to stay close to the field of accounting, as well as PSU — he continues to author academic articles and auditing textbooks, he chairs PSU’s Accounting Advisory Board, and he has been actively involved in setting national and international professional standards. His dedication to this industry is self-evident and runs deep in his DNA. At a professional accounting board meeting, Marilyn was asked to introduce Ray as a new incoming board member; She chose her words with care and simplicity: “Ray is a CPA and a leader. That’s what he is and that’s who he is.” 

Marilyn, who came to PSU after many years of banking administration followed by teaching business courses at Portland Community College, was known for using innovative technology in courses and taking special care to help students in their educational journey. Accounting students have acknowledged difficulty in their transition from entry-level to intermediate-level accounting courses, and she has utilized innovative software to offer a course specifically to help bridge this gap.

Marilyn was also an early adopter of online teaching long before virtual classrooms were an imperative. With over 21 years of teaching online, Marilyn was a pioneer in the online education field. As she retired in March 2021, Marilyn reflected on her students and the tremendous satisfaction she felt seeing them graduate and go on to have successful and fulfilling accounting careers. She stated it gives her great pleasure knowing she has been a part of her students’ success.

Ray and Marilyn, who met while attending classes at the University of Oregon, are originally from California and Washington, respectively. Their parents were small business owners who instilled in each of them the importance of education. Ray recalls his father encouraging him to “make a living with your mind, not with your hands.” As Ray and Marilyn reflect on how business and accounting have changed since they first graduated from the University of Oregon, they believe in the “importance of critical thinking, a commitment to lifelong learning, and the ability to continually reevaluate and raise one’s goals.” 

The Johnsons are fierce advocates for the importance of access and breaking down barriers to higher education for all. This belief inspired them to create two accounting scholarships at PSU’s School of Business, which over 20 students have benefitted from — many of whom the Johnsons are still in touch with, post-graduation. They have also included a generous provision for PSU in their estate plans.

As PSU and the accounting industry pivot to innovate and thrive in today’s ever-changing digital world, the Johnsons’ legacy endures in the lives they’ve influenced with their teaching, the opportunities they’ve created, and the culture they helped build, brick by brick, within PSU’s accounting program.