Kelly Hahn Johnson routinely called friends just because she wanted them to remain on her phone’s frequent caller list. She loved to dance and didn’t care who was watching.
When she was a photographer at The Frederick News-Post she was called to the apartment of a man who, while unpacking from a trip, discovered an exotic snake in his luggage. Summoned police officers stood atop furniture with their guns drawn, but Kelly calmly asked for a pillowcase—no surprise since she was a daughter of zookeepers. Celebrating her wedding anniversary often involved visiting an amusement park where she and her husband, Blane, would ride the roller coaster, in later years bringing along their son.
Kelly Suzanne Hahn Johnson, 56, of Sharpsburg, died Monday at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, after facing cancer for a third time.
Born May 24, 1964, in Lancaster, Pa., she was the daughter of Richard and Mary Anne Hahn of Thurmont. Kelly was married to Blane Johnson, formerly of Damascus, on Sept. 9, 1995, and was the mother of Brady Johnson, born in Salem, Va., in 2000.
Kelly graduated from Catoctin High School and University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Her first full-time job as a photojournalist was for The Frederick News-Post where she remained for 10 years, covering all aspects of the community from the first day of school to elections, storms and crashes. She took on social issues as well, covering the local LGBTQ community, HIV-AIDs and domestic violence, even when it made some readers uncomfortable.
She joined The Roanoke Times as a staff photographer, moving to assignment editor and later director of photography. Brady occasionally tagged along on assignments and hung out in the photo lab as Kelly worked. She mentored countless young photographers and was recognized for her talents with awards from the Associated Press, the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association, National Press Photographers Association and the Virginia Press Association.
Landmark Community Newspapers, owners of The Roanoke Times, named her Photographer of the Year and, most recently, Kelly received international recognition from Trailblazers of Light, which salutes pioneering women of photojournalism. She joins such legends as Margaret Bourke White and Dorothea Lange.
Kelly’s life calling as a newspaper photographer affected more people than she ever realized. Her photos were clipped and placed in countless scrapbooks, folded inside wallets and hung on kitchen refrigerators.
She was a constant with her collection of cameras and lenses during the important times in the lives of family and friends. When she, Blane and Brady returned to Maryland, she established Kelly Hahn Photography to do the same for clients. Brides, delighted with their albums, later scheduled photo sessions when their babies arrived.
Kelly completed the Marine Corps Marathon and other races and volunteered her photo talent to countless nonprofits, especially Breast Cancer Awareness—Cumberland Valley, shooting portraits of others facing cancer. She belonged to the Women’s Business Network of Frederick, the board of Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo and was an organizer of Zoo La-La, a fundraiser combining fashion and animals.
Literacy was important to her and she tutored in both Frederick and Roanoke. She gifted others with the books she loved and would leave paperbacks for strangers at hostels when she traveled.
As a young person, she visited Singapore and when she started her career, she spent a month backpacking in Europe, just as the Berlin Wall was coming down. That whetted her appetite for a nine-month worldwide tour in 1992 when she stayed in a hut in Fiji, rode an elephant through the jungles of Nepal, watched lava flow in Indonesia, rode in a camel safari in the deserts of India, climbed Ayres Rock in Australia, bungee jumped from a 135-foot bridge in New Zealand (which led to skydiving for her 50th birthday) and learned to muster sheep on horseback. All this while clicking her camera, keeping a journal and appreciating other lands and people. This cemented her belief that you should always go as a traveler, not as a tourist.
Kelly later visited Brazil, staying out until dawn at a samba dance school in Rio and feeling the spray aboard a tiny boat skirting the thundering waters of Iguazu Falls. In the Pantanal, she watched from a tree house as wildlife congregated at a waterhole at sunset, getting up before dawn to experience it all over again. She visited Mexico and hiked to the wintering grounds of millions of monarch butterflies. Her last big trip was to Peru where she climbed majestic Machu Picchu. In the years since, she regularly forwarded itineraries she received from travel companies to friends, wondering if anyone else was in.
Kelly was a movie and theater buff, often repeating lines from her favorites, including When Harry Met Sally or It’s a Wonderful Life. Although she enjoyed Broadway and the Kennedy Center, her true joy was seeing Brady perform in his many musicals.
Kelly was honest, especially when it came to style, telling you the new haircut was one you should keep forever, but the color of your blouse did nothing for you.
“Give it away. Or, better yet, burn it,” she would say.
And she would be correct.
Kelly was always ready to take on new people and had an enviable circle of friends, whether from childhood, her jobs, her neighborhood and church, or the people she met as she walked her dog “Boomer” across Antietam Battlefield. Hospital caregivers mentioned her strong spirit and her kindness. George Bailey certainly had nothing on our girl.
In addition to her husband, son and parents, Kelly is survived by her sister, Whitney Hahn and spouse Araminta Finn, Frederick; brother, Callan Hahn and spouse, Laurie, Thurmont; mother-in-law Ruth Johnson and spouse, Melvin Keaton, Hagerstown; sister-in-law Mindy Johnson Roche, New Market; nephews Marshall Hahn and Larry Roche, and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Burrier-Queen Funeral Home, 1212 W. Old Liberty Road, Sykesville, Maryland. A COVID sensitive private funeral service will be held soon and a celebration of Kelly’s life will be announced later. Memorial donations may be made to Breast Cancer Awareness-Cumberland Valley, 12916 Conamar Drive, Suite 201, Hagerstown, Md. www.bcacv.org
Friends, family, clients and colleagues are encouraged to post an image of Kelly or one she took that is treasured. She felt like her camera was an appendage and used her gift to capture a wide array of beautiful moments of life around her. Share one on her Facebook page at https://cutt.ly/MfTwG10