‘Human Computer’ Turns 100: Katherine Johnson Says, ‘I’m Just Lucky’

By Mike Holtzclaw
Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Katherine Johnson, the former “human computer” at NASA whose intricate, done-by-hand calculations sent men into space and brought them back safely, turned 100 on Sunday.

Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)

Katherine Johnson is amused by the question. A smile starts at her mouth and quickly spreads across her whole face.
As she approaches her 100th birthday, does she have any explanation for her longevity and health?

“I’m just lucky, the Lord likes me,” she says. Then, after a pause to reflect on that sentiment, she adds, “And I like him.”

The former “human computer” at NASA Langley Research Center, whose intricate, done-by-hand calculations sent men into space and brought them back safely, turned 100 on Sunday, Aug. 26.

West Virginia State University, her alma mater, unveiled a 7-foot statue of her likeness and endowed a scholarship in her name. School president Anthony Jenkins calls her “someone who changed America.”

She is hearing impaired and soft of voice, but Johnson loves company and conversation and she still displays a playful wit. She enjoys playing bridge, as well as board games. Rummikub is a current favorite.

Christine Darden, one of the “human computers” who followed in Johnson’s footsteps at NASA Langley, is a frequent visitor (and bridge partner) at the retirement community in Newport News where Johnson lives with her second husband, Jim. They marked their 59th anniversary Aug. 22.

“Every picture you see of her, she’s got that smile,” Darden says. “I’m glad her mind is still good. Sometimes she forgets things, but she’s got that wit about her. Katherine was always an outgoing person. She loves meeting people and talking to them.”

She is very much in demand. A post office box maintained by the family regularly fills up with letters. Many are from students of all ages wanting to thank her for the inspiration or ask her questions about her life.

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