In Memorial of Don Johnson

In Memorial of Community Hero
It’s been my Wednesday habit to spend our university ‘chapel’ time at our one and only KXIO Coffee House. It has been my space to find myself each week. Occasionally, if I’m really lost or have no reason to be on campus, I’ll work the entire morning where I can smell roasted grounds, listen to the ambient background of an espresso steamer, and watch the live in-house radio station.

Don Johnson has hosted his Rock ‘n’ Roll Breakfast show since long before I arrived in Clarksville. Everyone around knows Don, an elder man with white hair and beard, leaning on a walker to navigate around the station desk. His was a legitimate radio voice. It came through community radio in your car, home or office each weekday morning, sharing national and community news and interviewing guests.

It was my pleasure to speak with him a number of occasions, on air and off, about university and civic functions. I’d been warned to watch for questions out of ‘left field’. But I always found Don with a big toothy grin and genuinely interested in whatever it was I was sharing. If he asked something unexpected, it was from his recollection that there was more to me than whatever current affair I represented.

And there was more to Don than just the man behind the mic. He was unashamed to tell the story how he lost 150 pounds–“a whole person”–after he developed diabetes. This made him realize and preach how important it was to be mindful of how you cared for your body.

This year I brought him two nationally recognizable guests from a speaker series I arranged on campus. It was soon after the government shutdown that had resulted from out-of-control partisanship. Don was so earnest in his excitement to interview them on the radio. “Will they be able to tell us what normal people like us can do to influence what happens in Washington?”

And I always got the impression that his sharing events over the airwaves was more than a morning job for Don. It was easy to miss this when you listening with passing attention in your car, home or office. But when you sat across the desk and spoke with him, or watched him interview others, you could see it. This was his mission, a calling, he an ambassador. He cared about what was happening in his world.

He shared that with us every morning, this elder man with his toothy grin and a walker sitting behind that tension-spring dynamic microphone.

I arrived this morning to see Don’s usual place unoccupied.

So I asked the barista. “I haven’t seen Don in a while.”

She lowered her head, and her eyes grew wet. “He passed away last Friday.”

Now I sit listening to pre-programmed radio. The steamer isn’t especially active today…

My chapel is empty this morning.

The pulpit is empty.

I’m missing Don.