Sudden loss: Johnson remembered for service to others

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, April 30, 2014

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For the second time in just over six months, a Wise County elected official has died in office.

Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Terri Johnson, 40, of Decatur was among four killed Saturday evening in a two-vehicle wreck south of Decatur. Her death follows that of County Judge Bill McElhaney last October.

Remembering Terri

REMEMBERING TERRI – Terri Johnson, shown here in a Messenger archive photo from her first term in office, died Saturday in a wreck near Decatur. She was completing her second term as justice of the peace. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Johnson’s funeral is 2 p.m. Friday at the First Baptist Church in Decatur, where she and her family are members. Family visitation is 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at the church. She will be buried at Oaklawn Cemetery in Decatur.

Johnson had been a resident of Wise County since she was a child, attending Alvord schools from junior high until graduation.

Proud Dad

PROUD DAD – Terri Johnson gets a hug and kiss from her father, Kenny Taylor, moments after she won re-election as justice of the peace in 2010. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Precinct 3 Constable Doug Parr, Johnson’s classmate and close friend in school, described her as “kind hearted” and a “sweet person.”

“She was a great friend – someone you could trust and depend on,” Parr said. “But she also had a mean streak. She was probably as ornery as I was. We loved pulling pranks and playing games on people.”

Among their favorite pranks was a bit of photo altering in yearbook class.

Johnson loved to laugh, Parr said, and would always have a smile on her face even when something was bothering her.

Teamwork 1

TEAMWORK – Terri Johnson gives county judge candidate J.D. Clark a fist bump during an election watch party last month. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

While in college, Johnson began working for the Denton County Sheriff’s Department, first as a community relations director. She later earned her peace officer’s license to teach the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program in local schools.

Upon graduation with a degree in criminal justice, Johnson began working for her local justice of the peace.

After the birth of her first son, she became a stay-at-home mom and later started a business marketing her invention: Tack Wipes, an olive-oil-based tack and leather cleaner.

For years, Johnson participated in various community organizations such as youth groups, PTO and Junior Achievement.

In 2006, she made her first run for office as a Republican candidate for Precinct 2 justice of the peace, winning election that November.

Just a month after her election, she became very ill and was eventually diagnosed with type I diabetes. Her pancreas had shut down, and she became dependent on insulin with an insulin pump.

That’s when Johnson became a vocal proponent of diabetes awareness and a mentor local youths with diabetes.

“The more you share it’s a comfort to others. To let them know you can do it. It’s not the easiest, but it can be managed,” Johnson said of diabetes education in a Wise County Messenger article in November 2012.

Teamwork 2

TEAMWORK – Johnson visits with fellow justice of the peace Clay Poynor. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

In 2011, Johnson visited Washington, D.C., and participated in the American Diabetes Association Summit, Call to Congress.

Johnson was re-elected as justice of the peace in 2011 and filed to serve another term last November. She did not draw a Democratic opponent and would have started her third term next January.

TEAMWORK – Johnson sports her judge’s robe while walking with her son. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Her office is located at the Wise County Law Enforcement Center, which also houses the county jail and Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff David Walker said she was like family to everyone there.

Sitting just outside Johnson’s office window – adorned with a couple of memorial bouquets of flowers and a poem displayed on a counter – Walker recalled Monday one regular act of giving she would show to both her staff and the Sheriff’s Office staff.

“You know one of the things we won’t hear on the intercom every Friday morning around 8:30 is, “Judge Johnson has breakfast in her office.” I’d always go in there and say, ‘I’m trying to lose weight.’ Of course, she had donuts, and I never said no to the donuts,” Walker said with a laugh.

As with any traumatic event, such as an officer-involved shooting or the unexpected loss of a co-worker, a counselor will be made available to anyone who needs to talk, Walker said.

During those times of loss in the past, Johnson was always first in line to offer assistance.

“Whatever the case may be, Terri was always one of the first people to jump in and say, ‘What can we do to help?’ She was just that way,” he said.

ALWAYS SMILING – Whether it was honoring her office manager, Tammy Sosa or casting her vote Johnson was known for her positive attitude. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

A few years ago, Johnson organized a drive to send supplies to troops in Iraq. Walker said so many items were collected, “I thought we were going to have to get a U-Haul to get all the stuff out of here.”

Perhaps the most difficult task for Walker will be having to explain to his 4-year-old daughter why “Ms. Terri” can no longer play with her.

“My daughter, she’ll come in the back door of my office and she’ll run straight for ‘Ms. Terri’s’ office,” he said. “And if you can’t find my daughter running around here, you can go to Terri’s office and she’s sitting in Terri’s lap. And they have printed some sort of coloring deal, probably Dora (the Explorer), and they’re talking about coloring or whatnot.”

Johnson leaves behind a husband and two sons. The family issued a statement on Terri’s death which reads, in part: “We appreciate the outpouring of love from the community Terri served. We ask for your continued prayers for not only our loss, but for the friends and family of all those who died.”

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