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As Long as We Remember...

March 10, 2004

R. I. P. Gerald "Jerry" Johnson

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

Elected officials at all levels are granted the title "honorable" whether they deserve it or not. Often it is merely an acknowledgment of the fact that they persuaded others to vote for them.

Former Mount Airy Mayor Jerry Johnson didn't just warrant the title by the nature of town elections, he lived it through this unparalleled commitment to public service.

Jerry put the honor back in honorable, and anyone who worked with him or watched him in action understood that. Jerry was tireless in his pursuit of the best interests of the citizens of Mount Airy, Frederick County, and Carroll County.

I had the distinct pleasure of working closely with Jerry from early 1994 until the last Mount Airy town election results were overturned and Mayor James Holt was determined to be the winner.

I first met Jerry at a Frederick County Council of Governments (COG) luncheon in April of 1994. The COG format included a buffet lunch followed by presentations from county staff and outside organizations. All of the mayors and burgesses from the county municipalities came, as did the Board of County Commissioners.

When I met him for the first time, he was doing what I would see him do for the next several years. He was arguing for the best interests of Mount Airy, and he was making a persuasive argument. He always did.

I would get to work with him on several complex issues over the years. We wrote legislation to require the county commissioners to negotiate with municipal leaders over tax equity. We worked for balance in how state Program Open Space funds were allocated for park acquisition and development. We fought for better responsiveness on recycling issues, solid waste concerns, and tourism funding issues.

Anyone looking for a model of an effective municipal leader need look no further than Jerry Johnson. Shovel in hand, he would go out and resolve homeowner complaints about town and state snow plow crews who closed in already-cleared driveway entrances.

He wondered through downtown Mount Airy, stopping neighbors and strangers offering advice and assistance. I know several Mount Airy employees who have retired, and their adoration for this wonderful man is the truest test of his legacy.

I also got to see Jerry outside the context of Mount Airy. I worked with him in the Maryland Municipal League, a membership organization representing municipal issues in Annapolis. Jerry chaired the Communications Committee for the league. He helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for scholarships, helped create a project to document the story of Maryland's cities, towns, and villages.

The league staff loved the enthusiasm and spirit that Jerry brought to everything he did with the Communications Committee. He would don a giant bug costume to draw attention to the league's fundraising activities, usually at the summer convention.

League leaders usually didn't form a long line to wear the costume, but Jerry never hesitated. He understood the need to "work the crowd," and work it he did!

I will miss Jerry. I'll miss his sense of humor, his smile, and his infectious laugh. I'll miss the way he could go from quiet insistence to forceful argument, then just as quickly putting the disagreement behind him to move forward cooperatively.

Towards the end of his tenure as mayor, he made some decisions and took some positions that made him enemies in Mount Airy. Mayors do that, usually unintentionally. They have to make tough decisions everyday, and most of those decisions make 50% of the people unhappy.

I'm confident that Jerry's substantial contributions to the people of Mount Airy will be the measure of his tenure as a municipal chief executive. Mount Airy is a wonderful community, and Jerry Johnson deserves the lion's share of the credit for keeping the town on track toward a bright future.

I've worked with some legendary giants in municipal government: Terry Best from Thurmont, Orley Bourland from Walkersville, Doc Carr from Emmitsburg, Don Trimmer from Woodsboro, Louise Snodgrass from Middletown, and Jim Grimes from Frederick. None stood taller than Jerry Johnson, and I'm thankful for the years I got to watch and learn from this great man.

Rest assured that if God has any civic infrastructure issues in Heaven, he now has the right man to tackle them!

(Editor's Note: Mayor Johnson died in a car accident on westbound I-70 near New Market on Thursday March 4, 2004. Visitation will be held at Stauffer Funeral Home, 8 East Ridgeville Boulevard, Mount Airy, from 2 to 4 P.M. and 7 to 9 P.M. on both Thursday and Friday March 11 and March 12. Services will be conducted at the Calvary United Methodist Church, 403 South Main Street, Mount Airy, at 1 P.M. on Saturday March 13.)

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