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          Front Page




Former First Lady Died of Heart Disease

By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer
    Former New Mexico first lady Dee Johnson died at her home just before Christmas of heart disease, according to the Office of the Medical Investigator.
    OMI spokesman Tim Stepetic called Johnson's adult daughter, Seah, on Friday and told her that the pathology investigation had determined her mother died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease.
    "It is a natural death," Stepetic said. "With a history of hypertension, it's a condition where the heart enlarges, the walls tend to thicken and create a condition which makes the occurrence of an abnormal rhythm possible and that's what stops the heart."
    Johnson, the wife of former Gov. Gary Johnson until their divorce last year, served as New Mexico's first lady for eight years.
    "She probably hadn't had much evidence of it," Stepetic said of the hypertensive cardiovascular disease.
    High blood pressure and shortness of breath are the two most common indicators, he said, and Johnson was being treated for high blood pressure with medication at the time of her death.
    The autopsy also showed evidence that Johnson had had a prior heart attack, but tests could not determine when it occurred or how severe it was, Stepetic said.
    Johnson, 54, was found dead in her home at Taos Ski Valley three days before Christmas by a neighbor and police who had been asked to check on her when she had not called her daughter. She was found in bed with her reading glasses and the newspaper, leading police to believe she had died in her sleep of natural causes.
    Johnson, a graduate of Highland High School and the University of New Mexico, was first lady between 1995 and 2002 and was perhaps best known for her campaign against smoking in the state Capitol.
    She was a natural athlete and a fine skier, although knee problems had kept her off the slopes. Johnson was rehabbing from a knee replacement and coordinating the restoration of Hodgin Hall at UNM at the time of her death.