Pritzker taps former Chicago History Museum chief to replace LaHood as chair of Lincoln library and museum board

Gary Johnson, who was appointed to the board of directors for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield in 2019, will now lead the board. Pritzker said he’s “confident” Johnson will excel in the position and ensure the library and museum remain “a top destination for Illinoisans and visitors alike.”

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Gary Johnson, left;  Abraham Lincoln, right.

Gary Johnson, chair of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum board, left; Abraham Lincoln, right, in Julia Ward Howe’s 1861 portrait.

presidentlincoln.illinois.gov; National Portrait Gallery/Julia Ward Howe/AP photo.

A former president of the Chicago History Museum will lead the board that controls the state’s Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Monday.

Gary Johnson, who was appointed to the board of directors for the presidential library and museum in Springfield in September of 2019, will now lead the board.

In a statement, Pritzker said he’s “confident” Johnson will excel in the position and ensure the library and museum remain “a top destination for Illinoisans and visitors alike.”

“The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is a treasured institution that pays homage to not only the country’s first president from Illinois but also our great state’s incredible history,” Pritzker said in a statement. “I am pleased to announce Gary Johnson will serve as Chair of the Museum’s Board, bringing years of prior, award-winning service with him.”

Former Chicago History Museum president Gary T. Johnson.

Former Chicago History Museum president Gary T. Johnson.

Timothy Paton/Provided photo

Before his time on the board, Johnson, a Rhodes Scholar, served as president of the Chicago History Museum for 15 years. That followed a nearly three decade legal career as a lawyer and partner in international law at Mayer Brown and Jones Day.

“It is an honor to become the chair of this board,” Johnson said in a statement. “This is an important time for the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. It has accomplished so much for both Springfield and the nation. At the time of its anniversary, we look ahead to making it become even more relevant in our national dialogues.”

Johnson succeeds former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who resigned after federal prosecutors disclosed that the former Republican congressman from Peoria paid a fine in 2019 for failing to disclose a $50,000 loan from a Lebanese-Nigerian businessmanwhile he was in President Barack Obama’s cabinet.

Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood in 2019.

Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood in 2019.

Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times file

The Lincoln library has previously been plagued by debts. The foundation that runs the library and museum has considered auctioning off Lincoln artifacts to pay off the $9.7 million it owes on a 2007 loan it used to buy the Barry and Louise Taper Collection.

That $25 million collection includes a stovepipe, beaver-fur hat Lincoln allegedly wore, which was valued at $6.5 million. It also included the blood-stained gloves Lincoln wore the night he was assassinated.

The Chicago Sun-Times first raised questions about the authenticity of the hat and its connection to the 16th president in 2012. After years of scrutiny, a former director of the museum wrote in a 2019 email that the state’s top historian could find no evidence the hat ever belonged to Lincoln.

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