When we first came on as editor of this paper, three years ago, one of the first issues of the paper included a profile of Barbara Johnson. The piece referred to her as a "Bull Dog in Pearls." At first, we were tempted to edit this out of the article, thinking that perhaps Legislator Johnson might be offended. We quickly learned that she relished this comparison. That's when we first realized what a wonderful sense of humor Barbara had. Our relationship with Barbara only got better from there!
But aside from her delicious sense of humor, this "favorite daughter" of Port was known for her commitment and dedication to her hometown. Whether fighting for the Harbor Road renovation, Baxter Pond cleanup, Manhasset Bay improvement projects, etc., her determination and concern were palpable. Yet, she always managed to keep her "pearls" on and be a lady. Soft spoken (most of the time!), well-dressed and gentle, Barbara didn't have to raise her voice. As Rabbi Davidson pointed out in her eulogy for Barbara, "The volume of the voice didn't matter; what mattered was the sure conviction behind it and the persuasive power."
Her son Craig is credited with "capturing" his mom in the bulldog in pearls image. He also informed the mourners at the memorial service for his mother that if she was anticipating a tough fight in the public arena, she would call the family into the den to watch The Godfather movies..
We're reminded of one of the last times Barbara came to the Port News office. Frail and obviously debilitated, she stumbled trying to sit down. Well, then this "tiny terror" launched into a tirade against then County Legislature Majority Leader Bruce Blakeman. "He's blackmailing me," she declared, explaining that the monies for the Baxter Pond cleanup would not be forthcoming unless she voted for the county's budget ... which she had no intentions of supporting at that time.
After she updated me on the situation and we "visited" with each other, so to speak, she slowly left the office. We remember thinking to ourselves that we felt sorry for big, strapping Bruce Blakeman. He didn't stand a chance!
While we'll always remember her warmth, will and wit, we feel that her valiant fight against a hideous disease, not giving in to it and always maintaining business as usual, is the most significant memory and lesson from Barbara Johnson we'll treasure from this treasure of a woman.
Essentially, she taught us how to live; and she taught us how to die.
We in Port can remember her by donating to the Barbara Johnson Memorial Fund at 29 Beacon Hill Road. ---JP