The late Johnson & Johnson matriarch Betty Wold Johnson donated $5 million to Liberty Science Center in Jersey City to renovate its 163-foot tall pyramidal tower, to be named after her late husband Robert Wood Johnson III upon completion in 2022.
Liberty Science Center President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Hoffman announced the gift Monday night at LSC’s Annual Genius Gala, held virtually this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“She followed developments in modern cosmology. Everything about black holes, I learned, delighted her,” Hoffman said of Johnson’s interest in astronomy. “I fondly remember her asking me to read aloud a passage from one of Carl Sagan’s books. She greatly admired Sagan but never met him, and she enjoyed my telling her stories about what he was like in person.”
The Robert Wood Johnson III Tower will be “one of the most dramatic learning and event spaces in the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut region, with its stunning 360-degree views of Jersey City, lower Manhattan, Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and the Verrazano Bridge,” according to the announcement.
Johnson reportedly visited the LSC in her 90s upon learning that the center would be building the Western Hemisphere’s largest planetarium, which was completed in 2018. According to Hoffman, the trip was extended from an hour conversation in his office to a multi-hour tour around the center.
“She loved our naked mole rats and cotton-top tamarins. Later she told me that while she had always expected LSC to be a great place for children, she was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was also a great place for adults,” Hoffman said, adding that Johnson made her first $5 million gift in 2018 to LSC specifically for “non-glamorous facility needs like refurbishing bathrooms and plugging leaking roofs.”