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Venture Capitalist & Philanthropist, Hooks Johnston Dies at 55

Wednesday, September 6, 2017  
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Hooks Johnston, a venture capitalist, corporate executive and philanthropist, passed way on September 4.

Johnston, a venture capitalist, corporate executive, philanthropist and devout Christian, died early Monday morning from complications related to a degenerative autoimmune condition. He was 55. Survivors include his wife Betsy and four children.
"He kept me grounded and he was the kindest, most giving person,” Betsy said. “He battled health issues for almost 30 years and Hooks never complained. Not even to me."

Those long-running health issues made it hard for Johnston to move, putting him in and out of the hospital many times, but colleagues and friends say he never asked for help in what became a career-spanning seven initial public offerings (including webMethods), hundreds of millions of dollars in investments and a hyperactive role in the region's nonprofits. He touched many local companies and helped to foster and nurture a tech startup ecosystem in which one success begat another.

Johnston first left New York in 1988 at the behest of Gene Riechers, then an executive at the company, to work at VM Software. From there, Johnston was an exec at a number of companies, including VP of marketing at Systems Center, chief operating officer at ALG, CEO and president at Roadshow International and Descarte Systems Group. It was in 1998 that Riechers recruited him, alongside venture phenoms Harry Weller and Scott Frederick, to work at FBR Technology Venture Partners.

“Hooks was just a great adviser to CEOs. People loved working with him,” Riechers said of that time in his life, when they invested in CareerBuilder, Varsity Books and Proxicom. “He had the experience, the credibility and the advice to see where the world was going and the experience of having been there before."

It was those qualities and the investments they made at FBR that led Riechers to work with him at Valhalla Partners, where they ultimately put more than $400 million under management into companies such as Riverbed Technologies (sold to Aether Systems), InforMax (IPO, then sold to Invitrogen) and Global Logistics (sold to Oracle).

Those who knew him best describe him the same way: consistent, solid, always there to lend a hand or offer support. Carl Grant, an executive vice president of business development for Cooley LLP, knew Johnston for 19 years — Johnston was the treasurer of the D.C. Metro High Tech Prayer Breakfast, where Grant is chairman and president.

"He would have wanted to be remembered as a man with a strong, unwavering faith in Jesus Christ," Grant said.

Carrie Rich, CEO and founder of The Global Good Fund, a nonprofit that invests donations from the public into entrepreneurs and companies in the U.S. and developing countries, has raised millions in donations, said her organization wouldn't exist without Johnston, who used his extensive connections to gather money to support entrepreneurs from around the world.

"He was an incredible inspiration," Rich said. "If he could get up every day and get where he needed to be and have a positive attitude about it, [then] I had nothing to complain about."

Johnston was the chair of Rich's advisory board at The Global Good Fund before there was even a board of directors. He was a coach, a fiduciary who cared about more than the numbers, and a man who wanted to help others even as he worked through his own health problems, Rich said.

Johnston had shown no signs of slowing down. In December, he was announced as one of the managing directors for Inova’s Strategic Investment Initiative and its new $150 million venture capital arm to expand the system's reach into health innovation while earning financial returns. At the same time, officials unveiled the Inova Personalized Health Accelerator to help grow emerging health technology companies.
Todd Stottlemyer, CEO of the Inova Center for Personalized Health, credited Johnston with building the Inova Strategic Investment Initiative. “When it came to the companies we were working with or thinking about making an investment, Hooks had this incredible presence and gravitas because of his experience, success, wisdom, and all around good-natured personality. He’s the person who got us going.”

In that time, Stottlemyer said he and Johnston would trade friendly barbs over baseball — Stottlemyer was a New York Yankees fan and Johnston loved the Boston Red Sox.
But despite lengthy work weeks and a grueling schedule, Johnston never lost sight of his family. Rich said there were events Johnston would decline to attend so he could be there for his family. He also never lost his sense of humor, Betsy said.

"He could make the funniest quick-witted comments. We used to laugh so hard together," Betsy said. “If he saw or heard something really funny he would laugh till his eyes watered. It made you laugh even harder. I will really miss those moments."
And while he couldn't play tennis or throw a football with his children, Mary, Allie Hooks IV and David, he helped with their homework and worked with them to research potential career or colleges, Betsy said. His children looked to him for advice on everything from college essays to career decisions. The entire family had plans to gather over the weekend, as his daughter was shopping for a wedding dress for her upcoming wedding, and they decided to get together even though Johnston was not feeling well.

"No matter how busy he was at work he would always fulfill those needs for the kids," Betsy said. “We were so lucky. The truth was we had a fantastic weekend and all the kids were here."

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