May 17 - 23, 2015: Issue 214

 John William Alfred Johnson

Clareville - a favourite place

 John William Alfred Johnson

13th of August, 1928 – 9th of May, 2015

(Poppy John)
Aged 86
Passed away at home surrounded by family 9th May, 2015.
Dearly loved husband to Anne. Brother to Robert (Bob), Jean and Maureen.
Father to Robert, Mark, Michael, Therese, Angela, Paul (dec), Lisa, Peter, Kathleen and Gerard.
Father in-law to Janelle, Jody, Adrienne, Craig, John, Craig, Jennifer, Rodney and Elyse.
Grandfather to James, Steven, Rebecca, Paul, Nathan, Luke, Ben, Sam, Josh, Paige, Jonathon (dec), Rachel, William, Jason, Gemma, Jessica (dec), Timothy, Kylie, Claire, Blake, Tyler, Kira, Cody, Kyle, Jack, Dylan, Brianna, Cooper, Charlie, Alec and Izaac.
Grandfather in law to James, Fleeta, Matthew and Clare.
Great Grandfather to Ryder, Baby Habib and Baby Billing.
Friend to all.
Forever loved.

Despite touching so many lives and contributing so much to so many for all of his time here, John William Alfred Johnson remained self effacing and humble, a true salt of the earth gentleman.

When not working hard to found, run and build a successful business with brother Robert, he was fulfilling duties as a volunteer member of community organisations, and spent every other moment with his family, raising men and women who also continue to contribute to and support the growth of everything that happens here. Sporting teams, building facilities, the Johnson Brothers BBQ Trailer, made to support fundraising events within our community, or any number of many items donated to be raffled or auctioned for investing back into Pittwater at so many local functions, John Johnson has done something very very good.

You never see a Johnson standing up to take credit for anything they do though, they are not speech givers or those who frequent gala openings to sip free champagne, they duck the pat on the back. Johnsons are those found up early and at work with a smile for everyone they greet that day.

On Thursday a Mass, Service and Celebration of John William Alfred Johnson’s life was held in Maria Regina Catholic Church at Avalon, opposite the Maria Regina Catholic Primary School, both physical structures which stand today due to Mr. Johnson and his family’s credo. The church’s large vaulted room filled to capacity, then each wall filled with people who stood throughout. Therein another sense of solidity, the solidness of family, gathered all Johnsons and all who wished to pay their respects into the larger family that attests to what lives and remains in the Johnsons and in Pittwater, generation after generation.

The Eulogies given by John’s daughter Therese, son Robert, and grandson James are tributes for a man whom many in this community hold dear. Their generosity and strength of spirit allows a small record to slip through from those who knew him best and for the thousands who could not fit into the church on Thursday. 

John and Bob Johnson’s first page here runs once more for this week as well, the premise of Profile pages being a means of Honouring and Celebrating those whose pages they are by these too being told by their voices, in their words, as much as creating permanent records for all our children.

Extracts from the Eulogies run in the sequence they were spoken:

Poppy John:  James - grandson

I think the key indicator for wealth is not good grades, work ethic, or IQ. I believe it's relationships. Ask yourself two questions: How many people do I know, and how much ransom money could I get for each one?” ― Jarod Kintz

When I was a lot younger a group of kids at school were talking about how rich their grandparents were. It was an argument that has stuck with me for life.  Unlike me at that age, I actually stayed quiet and listened to them for a while.

As their argument turned to evidence, they started talking about possessions and moved on to bragging about where their grandparents shopped and what brands they wore. Some talked of David Jones or getting custom suits from the city, others dropped name brands like Quicksilver and Mambo. 

At this point I couldn’t take it any longer. I joined the argument.

“That doesn’t mean anything, my pop gets his clothes from Target and he’s richer than them all!”

Now, I’d like to think that I was profound at that age and understood the true meaning of wealth, but I did truly mean he had more money.
But as I have aged so has my understanding of my statement. Pop was and still is the richest man I know.

He has numerous friends from around the world and those who could would fly out to visit. He has created a family like no other that, whilst on occasion may disagree, he has taught us that family comes before one’s self and we are all the richer for it.

Growing up I hated Mum’s warning as we headed out. “Remember you’re a Johnson, so I’ll hear what you get up to before you even know you’ve done it”

No one else in the world knows my joy and on occasion embarrassment of being a John Johnson grandchild. Well no one else but my sister, 4 brothers, and 25 cousins.

It meant going to the lolly jar to get 1( 3!) lollies and catching each other out for doing the same…….including uncles.
It was knowing you were going to get dessert after dinner, just because pop was around so you had to have dessert.

Whether it was hiding on the bus and pretending that the last name Rushby meant you weren’t related to the embarrassing cousins, or succumbing to the taunts of a cousin daring you to roll a tyre down the hill on Riverview road. 

It could be captaining the team on the footy field with 5 of your cousins. It could be being School captain at school or simply having a discussion with a bully.
Or even the embarrassment of a cousin that thinks he’s a better Lebanese dancer than your new in-laws at your wedding.

It could be seeing his joy while being the granddaughter that’s about to extend his family further.
We are the only ones who can truly appreciate what he means to be part of this family.

A Grade Avalon Bulldogs team 1993 - Sponsored by Bob Johnson and with 7 Johnson Family Members as players. Photo courtesy Brian Friend.

Pop took great Joy from any success you all had. Be it at school, in sport, or his favourite, in business or your careers.

Whilst the expectation of being a Johnson can on occasion be overwhelming or frustrating, it is also a great guidance for when you find yourself lost.

Pop and Nan bred leaders. My father, Uncles and Aunties are all leaders in their own way. 

All of them are competitive, most of all with each other. All of them are compassionate and most of all with each other. All of them have been outstanding figures to the children in their lives and to each other’s. 

Being a Johnson means understanding when a stranger on the street needs to tell you how they know your brother, sister, cousin, Aunty, Uncle, Nan or Pop.

Thanks to pop, being a Johnson means more people will know you, than you will ever know yourself.

Thanks to pop it means more people will care for you than you’ll ever need.

His support of charities, communities and individuals has not only changed lives, but without a doubt indirectly saved lives.

The best advice pop ever gave was always about love and choosing a wife. He’d tell me to find myself a good girl and/or find myself a best friend. Which I did, I found both in my beautiful wife.

And like most things in life he was speaking from experience of an amazing 57 years with the wonderful woman he found in Nan.

Pop, would always light up when he saw his grandchildren or great grandchild. He never said hello it was often just your name as an announcement with a big smile on his face “Jamie”. 

When talking he would always say “my mate Jamie”, which became “me old mate, Jamie” which simply moved on to “old Mate”
I have been known by a lot of names in my life. Jay, JJ, Jimmi  Jimmi Jay, Jimmy Jay Jay, Jimbo, Jimbo Jones, Johno and at one point in primary school I tried to make my own nickname Jam. 

But, pop is the only one who called me Jamie,... and got away with it. I hated the name, but pop always said it with love and usually before he had something wise to tell me.
Like “Jamie, listen here a sec, that girl of yours, you put a ring on her finger, she’s a good one”
Or my favourite, “Jamie, you tell your father, you’re worth more money”.
True Story!

Last year I told pop, that he was the only one I had ever let call me Jamie. I meant for it to be an understanding of just how much he meant to me, but I saw a flicker of sadness in his eyes as he thought I was expressing my distaste at it. We both went quiet and a conversation continued on around us. I was worried that he would hold it personal. 15 minutes later, came from his mouth, “Jamie, how’s the shop doing?” and I knew it was alright.
Farewell old mate!

I'd like to finish with a poem I wrote for pop:

At 3.52 on a Saturday afternoon.

The captain fought the westerly
He had battled it for days
Around him were his crew of life
And still they stood amazed

This fearless captain, who knew his shit
He knew just what to do
He trimmed it tight, he leaned it over
He’d always steered them true

Together they worked, all galvanised for
This captain they held dear
For the life’s they’d lead was ‘cause of him
This Captain with no fear

The westerly it did go
And the crew all held their breath
As the captain with his pipe and rum
He dove, he jumped, he left

For 86 years he’d steered his yacht
86 he’d trained his crew
He taught them all that he had known
Yet now, what would they do

This yacht it was not meant for them
They headed to the shore
And though they sailed in his memory
His yacht would sail no more

They pulled up to his wharf at home
And all he’d known were there
They shared the stories of his life
And all did tell him fair

On his deck they sat and had a drink
A rum, a scotch, a beer
To celebrate the captains life
The captain with no fear

So when you do next hit some wind
A westerly or two
Remember of this Captain John
And think what he would do

Therese - daughter
Many knew my father to be quite “old school” when it came to the differences in gender. Some would even describe him as a chauvinist.  His treatment of the boys versus the girls in our family was very defined; girls did the housework, boys did the outside work, boys could look after themselves but his daughters needed a chaperone to protect them (many of my dates with Craig were in the company of one or more of my brothers). His daughters all had to have long hair (to wear in plaits), dress like ladies (bikinis were  definite no), were not allowed to have pierced ears because if God had wanted us to have holes in our ears he would have put them there and  makeup was not encouraged. 

But being a daughter rather than a son had many benefits. He was generous, always making sure we were well dressed, he knew all our sizes and frequently bought us outfits that he thought would suit us or he would take us on shopping expeditions. Dad particularly had a fondness for jewellery and he would have a little stash some even designed by him which he would surprise us with. When he fell ill he would send one of us out to stock up on items so that he always had something to offer my mother or any of his girls. 

Family was everything to dad and this was apparent in the many activities we undertook while growing up. First it was Sundays at the beach (often interrupted by the fire alarm and our having to accompany dad to the station where he was a volunteer fireman) then later it was sailing, a family affair, we all sailed while dad was in the start or rescue boats and mum did canteen duty. 

Sundays were sacred to our family. They started the evening before with Saturday night mass and finished with Sunday night dinner - all attended and no excuse could be given but we were encouraged to include our friends and later boyfriends or girlfriends. This continued even when we had children until it became too big to manage. 

Dad didn’t like any of us to stay over with friends or even relatives as he said he would never be able to keep track of us if we were all staying at different houses. Now I have children I know the truth and that is he just loved having us nearby so that he could share his time, love and wisdom with us. He would never allow us to miss school or work even if we were truly sick yet took us out of school to accompany him on short trips to places like Canberra. 

Dad was always a very loving and affectionate father and we could always count on a hug and words of encouragement whenever it was needed. He always maintained that he did not have a favourite but I know in my heart we were all favoured when we particularly needed him. He was a great listener, gave us the support we needed when life was tough, without strings and offered advice which we undoubtedly took. There may have been many of us but he had enough love for us all. He was strict but fair and we all got the same respect, attention and warmth even when we had done something to disappoint. 

Dad was a man of great faith whenever anyone died and especially when we lost Jonnie and Jess, he would reassure us that they were now safe in the arms of the Lord. I am sure that is where he is now.
He has left an indelible mark on our hearts and we will truly miss him.

Robert - son
Dad had two great partners in his life. The most patient, kind and loving women in the world, his wife, our mother Anne, and his brother Bob.  Dad and Uncle Bob did everything together. Dad started school a year late so that they commenced together. When Dad first started dating, Uncle Bob would often accompany them; 3 across the front seat of the ute. They both had ten children and did so much together that Uncle Bob once opinioned that he thought that they possibly did “everything” together. So throughout my eulogy when I say “he” you could probably assume “they” but today is about dad so I am sure, Uncle Bob, you won’t mind if today I do say “he”.

Who was John William Alfred Johnson?

Community Leader, Businessman, Friend, Mentor, Son, Brother, Husband, Father, Grand Father and Great Grandfather. He fulfilled so many roles and meant different things to so many different people that I can only hope to touch lightly on his life.

Born August 1928, just prior to the start of the Great Depression, he then lived through and remembered WW2. These experiences shaped him in a way that anyone born from the 50’s onwards could not possibly understand. He didn’t complete school as he already knew that he wanted to work in a hardware store and earn a living. While he had little formal education, he loved reading and continued to educate himself through out his life. As well as a father he was a mentor to me, teaching me all he knew about business. It was in business that his early experiences shaped him. He was a tough businessman able to extract the best value from every last dollar he spent. His motto which has stood me well in life as well as business was “Firm but fair”.  He believed in building relationships with both his customers and his suppliers and treated both as friends. He was risk adverse and would agonise over every last detail of any investment he considered. Considering every option to ensure the profit far outweighed any potential losses. Once as a smart young accounting student I was surprised at his knowledge and informed him that these were called feasibility studies he assured me that no, it was just a bit of maths and common sense.

Dad grew up in Auburn, a Western Suburbs Boy, at a time when large areas were market gardens and open paddocks. He regularly swam in Duck Creek when it was pristine and probably drinkable, more recently considered one of the most polluted waterways in Sydney. He loved and bred horses. His weekends were often spent on longer, even 2 day rides out from Auburn. He was an accomplished Farrier and he and his brother Bob were often called on to shoe the horses other farriers wouldn’t touch. Though he had no formal teaching, he was a great harmonica player and once won a talent quest on a Sydney radio station.

His love of the northern beaches grew during family holidays to Narrabeen. Eventually the family chose to move there and Dad and Uncle Bob were tasked with building the new family home in Nareen parade.  This is where one of the great family legends arose. The pair of them lived on site in a packing crate while they were building the house. Being careful with their money uncle Bob spied a bargain on chicken stock cubes and ordered a dozen. What he didn’t realise was that they were already packed in boxes of a gross (144). So dad and uncle Bob ended up with nearly 2000 stock cubes. Suffice to say they were pretty sick of Chicken soup.  

Just prior to this Dad had started dating a young girl from Lidcombe. Anne had a cheeky smile, incredible patience and a quiet determination. Dad, who was also busy starting his business at this time, wasn’t in a hurry to get married so Mum had to wait. Inevitably though in her own quite way she gave him the ultimatum (although I am sure he thought it was his idea) and in April 1958 they were married and moved to Avalon.

There were three things in Dad’s life that were important to him. In order they were community, friends and family. So in attempting to explain him I will deal with each of them in turn

Although he travelled a lot later in life he firmly believed that Avalon was the best place in the world. Avalon was important to him and upon setting up his home and business here, he set about becoming a part of this community. He was heavily involved with the establishment of the Avalon Parish and the building of Avalon’s first Catholic Church and school. He work tirelessly with the St. Vincent de Paul Society and Lions club, helping people, as even in those days there were people in need in the area. He served a term as president in both these organisations as well as the Avalon Sailing Club where we children spent much of our youth.

He was also a volunteer fireman at a time when Avalon only had one paid fireman, the Captain, Freddy Andres. However Avalon didn’t warrant a full time officer so during the week Freddy was often required at another station. During these times the station phones were switched through to our store where a system of bells had been installed to let the volunteers know if there was a fire; 1 bell for Palm Beach, 2 bells for Avalon, 3 bells for the Plateau. If they didn’t make it to the station in time the volunteers just headed in the direction the bells indicated and then I guess the smoke gave them an exact address. These bells unfortunately were too tempting for young children so on a number of occasions the volunteers were called out to a false alarm by curious little Johnson fingers.  I can only imagine the concern we caused these good men as they rushed around the far northern beaches looking for the smoke.

That Dad built a successful business through hard work is well documented but he also felt that this community had given us a lot and we had an obligation to give back. He encouraged us as we got older to also get involved. Fortunately there are a lot of us so while we seem to be everywhere the load is shared.

Dad had this ability to make friends anywhere. Dad enjoyed a crowd and a good party, our home was almost an open house. Much to Mums consternation, he was forever inviting people to stay. This continued throughout his life and certainly some our friends as well, spent almost as much time at our place as they did at their own.  While he did love plenty of company he had a habit (which continued throughout his life) of getting someone aside in the midst of all the noise and sitting quietly one on one really listening to the story of their lives. As a result of these conversations he often took people under his wing and developed friendships from all walks of life and all over the world. Yau (Chinese), Patrica (Thai), Max (Switzerland), Sarah, Gaby (Vanuatu).

There are three friends that I remember in particular that also served as mentors to him and I, who I am sure he is discussing business with even now. Our early Accountant Keith Wootton. Keith was from Campbelltown and so twice a year he would come down and prepare the accounts and then stay the night. We kids loved Keith because he always bought lollies. Keith and Dad & Mum and Uncle Bob & Aunty Joan would have dinner and then the men would quietly retire for a drink and to discuss the figures. The early conversation certainly went this way but the nights tended to be long and by the end of the evening some pretty outrageous business planning had been done which fortunately was forgotten by the next morning.

John Johnston, Dad’s garbo mate from across the road. Dad and John lived opposite each other in Hudson Parade and worked together in the Church. They were almost forced into friendship because their names were so similar they were constantly getting each other’s mail. John also, was a successful business man and I know that they often bounced ideas off each other because in later years I was privileged to be part of those conversations. Dad was absolutely devastated when John died after a long battle with melanoma.

Doug Millard, our first solicitor. Doug was also heavily involved in the church and Dad and he became firm friends as well as business colleagues. Doug was a bachelor, so his time was devoted to his mother, the church and his practice. He worked incredibly long hours and could be found in his office at all hours of the night or day. Dad had a habit of sometimes trying to sort something out by himself without troubling Doug. I distinctly remember Doug on a number of these occasions saying to Dad “Why have a dog and bark yourself”. A lesson I paid attention to and have carried into business and life myself.  Doug also left us too early and in doing so left a considerable hole in Dad’s life

Dad’s biggest love in life was his family.
His Mum and Dad, his brother and sisters and their partners, Bob & Joan, Maureen & Paul, Jean & Greg, and his cousins Joan & Debbie. He shared with me as I got older his great sense of responsibility that his parents had instilled in him to look after the family.

Of course as we came along and his siblings got older and established their own lives, his own children became important to him but he never lost that sense of needing to look after them.

So now we come to our story of Dad. Dad was a chauvinist but definitely not a misogynist. He was simply a product of a different time and to be honest I think if you asked Mum, in the early days at least he spent so many hours on the business that the division of labour did make sense. Of course as his work load slowed down and mum’s increased the division of labour didn’t change. I guess old habits die hard.

Dad loved all his children. Even when we were very young he found time for us, often regaling us at bedtime with the adventures of Willie the worm. These were made up on the spot and generally just involved wandering around the garden and escapes from naughty kookaburras and magpies, but we children certainly looked forward to these stories each evening.

As we grew up he had high expectations of us and rules that we often struggled with. He imposed a midnight curfew, we were only allowed out 1 night a week during school terms and except for unusual circumstances were discouraged from sleeping at a friend’s house. He was stubborn and his intransigence in the face of reasoned argument was incredibly frustrating at times. But even in the face of this I don’t believe any of us ever doubted that we were loved.

Janelle’s mother was delighted when I started dating Janelle. Janelle lived in Dee Why so in order to get home by midnight I had to get Janelle home by 11:30. Norma never had to impose a curfew on Janelle.

He insisted on us saying goodnight to him and mom whenever we came home. This led to the odd occasion where if one of us was incapable of saying good night, the more sober of us would wander in two or three different times and pretend to be different people. I am sure mum and dad knew but chose to ignore it. They really just wanted to know we were safe.

Dad was incredibly affectionate. He wasn’t afraid to kiss us or be kissed by us in public. In fact as teenagers much to our consternation he often insisted. He told us he loved us often, I for one probably didn’t tell him enough.

While growing up I often swore that I would be a different father. Of course I wasn’t and I couldn’t be prouder than if my children were to tell you I turned out exactly the same.

So that’s a little bit about my Dad. I have missed things but I am sure we will all speak of them this arvo and in the coming days as we remember him.  Please share your memories of him with us this afternoon, we would love to hear them.

I would just like to finish with a very short verse which I think sums him up beautifully.

Only a dad, but he gives his all
To smooth the way for his children small,
Doing, with courage stern and grim,
The deeds that his father did for him.
This is the line that for him I pen,
Only a dad, but the best of men.

 Shop Front, 55 Avalon Parade

Day at the beach. Anne (Walking up the beach) Back Row Left Mark Right Robert. Front Row Michael, Therese,  Angela.  (Summer 1968/69).

Copyright Johnson Family, 2015