Elizabeth Jane Johnson, 68, formerly of Haverford, an owner/operator of Gullifty’s restaurant in Bryn Mawr, died Thursday, May 25, of complications from breast cancer at her home in Conshohocken.
Known as “Betty Jane,” she married Eugene Johnson in 1972, and worked as a second-grade teacher for three years before opening Gullifty’s with her husband and her business partner, Andy Zangrilli.
Gullifty’s, in the Rosemont Square shopping center, is a full-scale eatery with outside dining and bar. Mrs. Johnson left her mark on the establishment by focusing on the operation of the restaurant and by training its staff, her family said.
“The principles she instilled enabled it to flourish for 42 years,” her family wrote in a tribute.
Born in Pittston, Luzerne County, to Biondo and Elvira Antonello, Mrs. Johnson graduated in 1967 from St. John the Evangelist High School there. She was very popular, her family said -- captain of the majorettes, secretary of the student body, and May queen.
After high school, she earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Pennsylvania State University in State College. She was the first in her family to pursue higher education.
When Mrs. Johnson was not at Gullifty’s she served as a bridal gown consultant at the Wedding Shoppe in Paoli, Suki Rosan in Ardmore, and Elizabeth Johns in Suburban Square.
“She had an unparalleled ability to connect with strangers and friends and to provide service and love,” which made her an effective, caring wedding consultant, her family wrote.
The same affability that made her comfortable with the public in her role as a restaurateur carried over into her work as a wedding helper. "She was tremendously empathetic," said her son Jason.
Mrs. Johnson was found to have two types of Stage 4 breast cancer in 2012. She stopped working in 2014 because, she told family, she wanted to focus on her grandchildren.
The cancer eventually metastasized to her liver and brain. Mrs. Johnson studied the disease to find leads on optimal treatments, consulting with oncologists Angela DeMichele at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital and Jose Baselga at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She did not expect a cure, but wanted to counter the disease by living as high quality a life as possible.
Armed with courage and a love for her family, Mrs. Johnson fought to live long enough to see the last four of her seven grandchildren born. “She faced this adversity with courage and grace, inspiring all in her path,” her family wrote. "There was never a complaint, always a smile. Forever an optimist, she dedicated her life to her friends and family, fighting through to meet her grandchildren."
In addition to her grandchildren and husband, from whom she was divorced but with whom she remained friendly, she is survived by children Tiffany Maguire, Kristian, Jason, and Tamara. Eugene Johnson, her former husband, had helped to care for her and was present in the room when she died, said son Jason.
A viewing starting at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 31, will be followed by a memorial Mass at St. John Neumann Church, 380 Highland Lane, Bryn Mawr. Burial is private.
Donations may be made to Pennies in Action, an organization focused on breast cancer research, via www.penniesinaction.org.