Landscaper building memorial for Judge Terri Johnson

By Jake Harris | Published Wednesday, July 9, 2014
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A Wise County resident is trying to ensure that one community member’s legacy lives on.

Rick DeVito, a landscaper at TXScape, said he wants to create a memorial in the shape of a judge’s gavel in front of the Wise County Sheriff’s Office for the late Judge Terri Johnson.

Memorial Planned

MEMORIAL PLANNED – Landscaper Rick DeVito holds a gavel in front of the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, where he hopes to build a memorial for Justice of the Peace Terri Johnson, who died in a car wreck April 26. The memorial would be in the shape of a judge’s gavel, with a tree at the top. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Johnson was killed April 26 in a head-on collision with an SUV on U.S. 81/287. The collision claimed three other lives as well.

DeVito said that he originally wanted to design a tree, but it quickly turned into something more after he attended Johnson’s funeral.

“I was inspired by [First Decatur Baptist Church pastor] Ken May’s sermon at Terri’s funeral, where he spoke about something good coming from something bad, and it just went from there,” DeVito said.

While DeVito didn’t know Johnson personally, he said he felt moved by the impact that Johnson had on the community. He began sketching plans of the memorial the day after the funeral, with help from his wife, Lesia.

Rough sketches of the memorial show an 11-foot-long bench that would connect to a wide, wildflower and bluegrass-filled garden flanked by two 4-foot-long benches, to create the shape of a judge’s gavel.

The center of the garden would have a Texas Desert Willow tree surrounded by stones dedicated to members of Johnson’s family. Other stones dedicated to the Wise County and Denton Sheriff’s offices and other community organizations that Johnson was a part of would be dispersed throughout the garden.

A memorial plaque with a message written by Johnson’s family would be installed behind the tree.

“I just wanted to do something unique for her because she was such a unique lady,” DeVito said.

DeVito said he is looking for community donations and help from local churches, community members, craftsmen, carpenters, electricians, cement masons and stone engravers to help build the memorial so that the work will be 100 percent volunteer.

The price for all materials needed to build the memorial is estimated to be between $2,500 to $3,000. Any extra money would be donated to the American Diabetes Association or the Decatur Fellowship of Christian Athletes, two organizations that Johnson supported. Johnson was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2006 while she was running for her first term as justice of the peace.

“She was a big volunteer, so I felt like her memorial should be built the same way,” DeVito said. “She really walked the talk when it came to volunteering.”

DeVito plans to start the memorial once all the funds are raised and the weather gets cooler. He hopes to finish it sometime in September or October.

Donations can be made to the Terri Johnson Memorial Plaza fund at Decatur First Baptist Church.

Judge Johnson’s husband Craig, who has been named interim Precinct 2 justice of the peace, said he thought the gavel memorial would be a great way to honor his wife.

“I think it’s a very appropriate way to honor someone who was, at her very core, a servant in every capacity,” Johnson said. “It didn’t matter if it was in her judge’s seat or cooking for the FCA or just mowing the grass. I think this would be a fitting way to honor someone like her, especially with it being all volunteer-based.”

Wise County Sheriff David Walker said his department wholeheartedy supports the memorial.

“We want to do whatever it takes to make this happen,” Walker said.

Three Quanah area residents were killed in the accident that took Johnson’s life. Two $500 scholarships were given in Quanah ISD to honor Juan Rios, one of the victims.

One Response to “Landscaper building memorial for Judge Terri Johnson”

  1. I don’t understand. I don’t mean to be indelicate or insensitive, but she wasn’t killed – she did the killing and died in the process. Had the other car been going down the wrong way and hit her head on and killed her, I’d totally support this. But she was the one on the wrong side of the road and she did the killing. This just isn’t right – neither the half-mast flags nor this memorial. Make a memorial to the innocent family she killed and injured.


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