Pat Johnson, ‘Grannies on Safari’ co-star, dies at 73

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Regina Fraser (left) and Pat Johnson were traveling companions on the PBS show “Grannies on Safari.” | Sun-Times file photo

Pat Johnson, co-host of the PBS show “Grannies on Safari” has died at 73, a little over a year after her friend and traveling companion Regina Fraser died in May 2016, also at 73.

Ms. Johnson was fighting breast cancer and had gone through chemotherapy. Doctors had just put her on an experimental drug to help fight the cancer when she had a heart attack on Aug. 25. She died on Aug. 31.

Her niece, Kelli Slaughter, who lived next door to her in Henderson, Nevada, described her as “a good person who was friendly to everybody.”

“She was impassioned about the arts and she loved her family,” Slaughter said. “Art and travel were her life and she always believed there was so much more to see.”

Ms. Johnson was deeply involved with the arts, and before joining her friend on their TV travels, she was the founding director of the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco and worked at the Chicago Cultural Center, Slaughter said.

Her Aunt Bea, who traveled all over the world by freighter, was an inspiration to her on the show, she said in a 2006 Chicago Sun-Times Q&A. “She had a real carpet bag,” Ms. Johnson said at the time. “She would bring back little trinkets and things [for me.] I was amazed at her life. She was my inspiration.”

Because of her work, Ms. Johnson was able to “to encourage and support international exchanges in over 60 countries,” she said in 2006. “Grannies on Safari” allowed her to continue to make international connections.

The syndicated show followed the two globe-trotting grandmothers as they went from the Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto to the underground salt mines and cathedrals of Krakow, Poland, among other places.

For four seasons, running from 2006 to 2013, their travels took them from continent to continent, and from city to city and viewers went with them, learning about new cultures and landmarks as the grannies learned too.

When longtime ABC7 anchor Hosea Sanders moved to Chicago from Los Angeles to start at the station, he said that Ms. Johnson reached out to him and invited him to her home.

Since then the two kept in touch — Sanders would do stories on the duo for ABC and, during downtime, he said Ms. Johnson and Ms. Fraser would tell stories about each other. Ms. Johnson was down-to-earth, Sanders said, even though she was worldly.

“She was a wonderful, warm earth mother,” Sanders said. “She had such a sense of adventure and curiosity about culture and art. She liked to bring people together and encourage them out of their comfort zones.”

Of her travels and being on TV, she said in a 2006 Sun-Times Q&A that “we do contribute to the understanding of us and those around the world. We are open to learning about other cultures and sharing.”

That openness went beyond cultures and art and inspired her family and younger generations, too.

“She always found the art in everything,” Slaughter said. “She was inspiring and energized. She was friendly to everybody, and we’re really going to miss her.”

Ms. Johnson is survived by two sons, Todd and David, and two grandchildren, Amira and Solomon. She lived with her sister at the time of her death in Henderson.

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