A Tribute to Pat Johnston

Jo Kalat

“Nobody loved Scotland and the Scottish arts more than Pat Johnston.  She gave selflessly to make sure  every dancer had whatever they needed to be able to perform - costumes, rides, hotel rooms, instruction, whatever it took.  Her joy in life was infectious and her devotion to the Scottish arts contributed to the progress of many dancers in the Southeast.  She will be greatly missed.”

Sandy Gribbin

"This lovely lady will always hold a special place in my heart and many other dancers.  She was kind, encouraging, spunky, and one-of-a-kind.  She put my hair in a bun for my very first dance competition 32 years ago, and she was always the life of the highland community.  Thank you for being you, Pat Johnston"

Kathleen Hall

“She was the bedrock of highland (and country) dancing in the southeast...from raising her own dancing family to teaching dance, making costumes, doing hair, organizing road trips, volunteering her administrative services, and sharing her love and devotion for the art and sport of highland dancing, Pat was everywhere. I really can't imagine attending GMHG (or any other games in the southeast) and not seeing her there -- she will certainly always be a felt presence. (Side note: I still wear the underdress she made for my first national outfit (arisaid / aboyne), even though it's now at least 27 years old...she picked out this beautiful eyelet material for the sleeves, and I just adore it!)”

Jennifer Licko

"Pat wasn't going to let me get on the competition stage with a sloppy bun, an uneven kilt or falling down socks. She was always making sure every dancer was put together. Even after my competitive days, she was sharing her love of Scottish culture with me. Introducing me to the Scots Gaelic  language and supporting me in my own efforts to promote and preserve Scottish cultural arts. I have daily gratitude for her presence in my life."

A Tribute to Pat Johnston

Few in the Scottish dance community could deny the far-reaching impact of Pat Johnston. With a personality far bigger than her stature, her influence on the Scottish community extends throughout North Carolina and far beyond. Originally from Hendersonville, Pat made her home in Cary, in the triangle region of North Carolina. Having a keen interest in their Scottish heritage, Pat and her beloved husband, Steve, enrolled their children in Highland dance lessons with Cary dance instructor, Jo Kalat. Pat developed a love of Highland dance herself, started taking classes and eventually became a teacher. In time she also became a local authority on Scottish Country dance. She taught dance out of her home for many years, until she and her daughter, Amy Mooney, successfully opened a dance studio in Cary.

pat johnston


For decades, Pat and her entire family, from siblings to grandchildren, were a long-standing presence at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, competing in many events, representing Clan Johnston in the Parade of Tartans, and volunteering at the Highland dance venue. Pat devoted countless hours to all aspects of the Highland dance competition and was a dedicated member of the GMHG planning team. Her contributions were recognized in 2016, when she was presented with the Agnes McRae Morton Award.

In addition to her service to the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, Pat was a trusted mainstay in other Scottish organizations and events. She was a founding member of the Scottish Cultural Organization of the Triangle, serving as treasurer for the organization for many years. In association with SCOT, she also was a founder of the Cary Indoor Highland Dance Competition. Pat filled many roles for dance competitions from Virginia to Florida, and was instrumental in reviving SSA, the School of Scottish Arts, which takes place in Banner Elk, NC the week prior to GMHG.

Pat and Steve Johnston

Pat’s commitment to Scottish organizations and heritage also extended to the national level. She served as longtime treasurer for FUSTA (now ScotDance USA), the governing organization for Highland dance in the United States. Through her work at ScotDance USA, she became well-known and respected by dance teachers and dancers throughout the United States, and other countries as well.

Pat will be fondly remembered for her ever-present visor (in fair or foul weather, indoors or out), her belief that Crocs can be worn to any event, and her bottomless iPod collection of Scottish dance music. Her well-known resourcefulness and inventiveness were epitomized by her equally bottomless “bag” (always in tartan print), containing everything from safety pins, elastic and electrical tape to office supplies, tarps and lunch. Any dancer that ever attended SSA under her guidance can recount at least one of her Scottish history tidbits and give testimony to her love for the SSA songbook.

While Pat’s love for all things Scottish was great indeed, it paled in comparison to her enthusiasm for life. Devoted wife, mother, and grandmother. Generous with her time and talents. Always seeing the best in all people and in all situations. Dedicated, loving, passionate, inviting, loyal, wise. These words all describe Pat, but that BIG personality could never be contained by something so small as words. Maybe Pat could find a fitting Scottish folk song instead.


1 thought on “A Tribute to Pat Johnston”

  1. sally thompson

    she was a good Scottish dancing teacher and her skills and dedication will be missed

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