Barbara Piasecka Johnson,heiress to the vast Johnson and Johnson fortune,has died in Wroclaw,Poland where she grew up.She was 76 and had been seriously ill for some time.A degreed art historian,Mrs.Johnson was born in Staniewicze,Poland in 1937,an area now a part of Belarus.
After World War II,her family resettled in Wroclaw.Mrs.Johnson fled communist Poland in the late 1960s.After briefly studying in Rome,she emigrated to the United States with a hundred dollars in her pocket and not a word of English.J.Seward Johnson,Sr.,heir to the Johnson and Johnson health care company fortune,hired her as a maid and cook at his Oldwick,New Jersey estate.
A year later,Barbara left to study art at New York University.Mr.Johnson provided her with a Manhattan apartment,which he moved into with her.He divorced his second wife in 1971 and married Barbara,several decades his junior.
Following Mr.Johnson's death of prostrate cancer in 1983,her seven stepchildren contested the will in court,accusing her of being a manipulative gold digger.She denied the charge,saying Mr.Johnson disinherited the stepchildren because of their scandalous and disappointing behaviour.A settlement was reached in which she received about 300 million of the half billion dollar estate.
A woman of considerable beauty,Barbara made a name for herself as an art collector and philanthropist,eventually donating her art collection to her foundation for the benefit of the poor and sick,especially those with autism.She also achieved notoriety when she stepped in to rescue the famous Gdansk shipyard,base of the Solidarity movement that freed Poland from communism,from bankruptcy,an effort that ultimately proved unsuccessful.
Following her funeral Mass in Wroclaw cathedral on April 15,Barbara will be buried in that city,the girlhood home she never forgot.
Johnson and Johnson(JNJ)