A Tribute to Johnny Johnson

November 20th, 2001

A Tribute to Johnny Johnson / Memorial Service, Birmingham-Southern College

By a Friend, David Dyson (Johnny’s friend Dave)

Dr. Jackson, I sincerely thank you for inviting me to represent those who know Johnny best as a friend. To you and everyone here, I pray that my words will honor him and somehow encourage you. I have found summarizing two decades of friendship on to two sheets of paper challenging, so I am looking forward to additional sharing of stories with family and friends.

To Johnny’s family, getting to you know you has helped me understand why he had such strong, deep roots. Johnny was a great friend, like a brother. I don’t think I have grieved like this for a male since my grandfather died. Today, I start celebrating his life.

A part of our friendship that interests some people is that we created a tradition of “breaking bread” together weekly, mostly on Saturday mornings, soon after we started working at the College in 1980. We shared over 1,000 meals together (Johnny’s momma smiled at me the other day and said, it looked like you boys had been eating well!).

A life lesson from Johnny is that when we have special people in our lives, invest time with them.

Another lesson I learned from Johnny is about harmony. We live in a world that has too much conflict, between international ideologies as well as people working side by side. My friendship with Johnny gives me hope. In 21 years, each of us with different personalities, we enjoyed harmony—we never had an argument. I think he had to exercise some of his Sand Mountain patience a few times!

Matching personalities is good, though if you want friendship for a lifetime match on values.

I knew that Johnny was trustworthy and his heart had good intentions. If he had a different idea or if he was slow to get excited about an idea I thought was great, I learned from his example over time that I should slow down and listen. Usually, he was right and or at least made the idea better.

Johnny’s family, you have heard words of appreciation for how much Johnny meant to the College, though it may prove uncomfortable for people at the College to comment on what they meant to Johnny. I encourage you to celebrate that Johnny loved his work and was good at it. With so many people wishing they did not have to work, Johnny was glad that he could, especially in education. He valued his chance to serve and the mentoring and support that came from trustees, the president and senior leadership team, staff colleagues and others who worked with him. And, in 55 years he did as much work as some do in 105! Joe Dean and I joked that Johnny’s not finished, we expect the finances in Heaven to be straightened out any day now!

Johnny also supported continuing education as a volunteer. Through the Personal Leadership Association, which Johnny helped start 10 years ago, Johnny supported seminars monthly, over 100, open to members and the public. He led the behind-the-scenes efforts for three major lectures sponsored with the College with 700-1,000 persons attending each. He sponsored seminars on campus bringing members from the community together with staff and students to write plans for life and hear teachers of life leadership. He invited BSC faculty, staff and students to present to people in the community. Every year that I taught a Saturday morning workshop for students in the Life Planning and Leadership Interim and guests, Johnny was there. At our last breakfast meeting that Johnny and I had he presented new ideas about how we could expand the institute and association to work with the College even more closely to serve corporations and our community.

Dr. Berte, thanks for announcing that the Association had planned to present our first award, The Loyalty Award, to Johnny. He was in mind when we created it, and we were to surprise him at our 10th anniversary banquet on December 4. We will proceed to honor his memory.

This last section is particular special and somewhat private to Johnny. He supported the mission to help people to plan for life and to lead our lives to fulfill our callings. Just as the Constitution of the country is important in clarifying values and strategies to inspire and guide a nation, he wrote his mission and vision to inspire and guide his life. Johnny wrote his constitution on one page. It took me months to convince him to share it publicly, which he did at a seminar on campus this year. As I read a few sentences selected for you from three of the seven areas of life, please consider what a gift this is coming from such a private man and that each phrase is but a summary of its meaning. Some of his writings include original thought and some affirmations come from scripture, family, friends, and books he wanted to internalize. The mission is a statement of purpose; a vision is written in first person describing his discernment of his callings and choices for his best self.

Johnny’s life mission statement:

To live simply and humbly with honor, love and serve others meaningfully, and worship God faithfully.
Part of his professional vision statement:

I am a servant leader. I have a passion for the work I do and I receive pure joy in doing an excellent job…. I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand… the simplest task can be meaningful if I do it in the right spirit.
In the Social area, he affirmed:

I love and serve others meaningfully. I love, respect and honor my family and friends. I strive to make friendship a fine art….
In his Spiritual vision, he summarized:

I love God with all my heart, mind, and strength. I pray for guidance and give thanks for my blessings daily…. I believe in an all-wise and all-loving God, named by whatever name, and that the individual’s highest fulfillment, greatest happiness, and widest usefulness are to be found in living in harmony with His will.”
Family, colleagues and other friends, I believe that …

Johnny Johnson’s life was a sermon; and only sometimes did he need to use words.
Johnny liked the book, On Walden Pond. The author, Henry David Thoreau, could have been describing Johnny when he wrote,
The hero is often the simplest … of men.
Dr. Berte, you closed your remarks citing scripture that Johnny liked,
Well done … good and faithful servant.
Yes, my friend, our friend, well done. Be thou at peace.

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