Dr. Drexel M. "Drex" Johnston, a retired Bel Air dentist and World War II pilot who was a lifelong aviation enthusiast, died July 6 of complications from a stroke at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center. He was 91.
"Drex was a true Renaissance man, bon vivant and devoted husband," said Todd Holden, a former Aegis reporter and photographer who was a longtime friend. "He was both witty and caustic, and I enjoyed playing golf with him."
"He was quite unique and recognizable in both looks, carriage and deportment," said Sam Spicer, a fellow aviator and friend.
The son of a Pontiac dealer and a homemaker, Drexel Marion Johnston was born and raised in New Martinsville, W.Va., where he graduated in 1941 from Magnolia High School.
He enlisted in the Army Air Forces in 1941. After being trained as a pilot and commissioned a lieutenant, he was sent to the Pacific, where he spent World War II.
After the war ended, he enrolled in West Virginia University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1952 in philosophy.
While he was a student at West Viirginia, he fell in love with Imogene Rollins Bane, whom he married in 1948.
The couple moved to Baltimore when he studied dentistry at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry. After he graduated in 1956, he established an office in Perry Hall — which his wife managed — and they settled in Joppa.
"I became one of his patients," said James E. Massey, a retired Harford County librarian who also served as Harford County Council administrator.
"He got into dentistry because he was good with his hands. He was very patient as a dentist, but everything had to be just so," said Mr. Massey. "He had an excellent staff. ... He gave good service and expected the same."
Dr. Johnston retired in the 1990s.
He was a lifetime member of the American Dental Association and the Baltimore Dental Association, and helped establish the Harford County Dental Association.
Dr. Johnston supported his wife, who had long been active in Republican politics and had earned the nickname "Mrs. Republican of Harford County."
Dr. Johnston kept his twin-engine Cessna at Aldino Airport in Bel Air, where he and his wife enjoyed taking flying vacations.
"They didn't go inland much but flew up and down the East Coast," said Charles S. Mullett, a brother-in-law who lives in Fairmont, W.Va.
The couple later moved to Brightview Avondell, a Bel Air senior living community, Mrs. Johnston died in 2011.
"Drex had a very inquisitive mind, especially on matters involving science and medicine," recalled Mr. Mullett.
Mr. Massey said Dr. Johnston "was also interested in astronomy and philosophy. He loved talking about books. He was very thoughtful."
Mr. Holden said he visited Dr. Johnston regularly after he and his wife moved into Avondell.
"It was convenient to stop and chat with them both," he said. "He was never the same after the love of his life passed away a couple of years ago.
"Whenever I visited, we enjoyed each other's company. The last time I spoke with him it was on the phone — a good, bright back-and-forth," said Mr. Holden.
"When I asked him if he needed anything, he said, 'Just something to drink.' I asked him what he preferred, and he said, 'Whatever you're drinking, Todd. There, I made it easy for you,' " said Mr. Holden. "That's the best way to say goodbye, even though neither of us knew it."
Mr. Massey said that Dr. Johnston "enjoyed a bit of liquor once in a while, and I would always bring him a bottle of Harvey's Bristol Cream sherry."
He was a charter member of the Maryland Golf and Country Club.
Dr. Johnston donated his body to the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences of the Department of Defense, said Mr. Mullett.
Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.
Dr. Johnston is survived by two sisters, Patricia Mullett of Fairmont and Retta Carol Nice of Morgantown, W.Va.