BY LOUIS C. WARD
LAKE COUNTY – Lake County, and the Leesburg community especially, has lost a pillar, a “giant of a man” with the passing of Mr. John Leslie Johnson, Sunday, July 9, 2023.
Renowned educator, community activist, and dedicated community servant, Mr. Johnson touched the lives of many with his infectious smile and personality, his informing tidbits of history, his musical abilities, and his light footwork when dancing.
Loved and revered by his family, neighbors, former students, members of public agencies and community organizations, and others, Mr. Johnson’s Home Going Service will be held Saturday, July 22, 2023 at 11 a.m. at Morrison United Methodist Church, 1005 Main Street, Leesburg, Florida 34748.
Many individuals remembered Mr. Johnson and some expressed their thoughts on what he meant to them and how he impacted their lives.
“He was a distinguished gentleman who had genuine care for his community and his former students. I had the honor of sharing the council chambers with him on the CRA and other city matters. I would have loved to have been one of his students.” Former Leesburg City Commissioner Bod Bone
Perhaps the thing that impressed me most about Les was his bold tenacity, resolve and steadfastness to “stand”, meaning to take a stand for what he believed. He was not timid about speaking his truth with confidence and conviction. I was privileged to witness Les’ signature traits over and over again in various situations as, in principal’s meetings with the Lake County School District; and, in numerous community situations and boards. My most endearing moments with Les were the times we spent hours and hours together preparing the shows for THE OTHER LEESBURG productions. Les did an excellent job telling and retelling the true stories of Leesburg during the Jim Crow era of segregated Leesburg and the South. Les was one of Leesburg’s noted historians!!! The shows were under the direction of Jim Archie, whose idea it was to present these telling episodes and sponsored by Jim Miller, who mentioned the idea to Jim Archie. Bettye Stevens Coney served as the producer, researcher and writer of scripts. I am, indeed, proud to have known and shared the later part of Les’ life with him on many historical and noteworthy occasions. Wow! Another of our most beloved, talented and valued human resources has taken his wings and is now exploring his beautiful home in heaven. Bettye Stevens Coney
Gosh I’ve known Mr. Johnson all my life! I guess because he and my cousin, Horace Williams Jr., were grade and high school classmates, best friends, my cousin Horace is a pharmacist who upon graduating college (Xavier, NOLA) moved to Pasadena. Mr. Johnson was so kind, talented, musically inclined, and friendly; he never met a stranger. My generation loved to be around him, sharing his knowledge. I can distinctly remember that he was a great reader and would keep a journal. We were a member of the same church, St Paul AME; I sang in the choir. Etta Givens was our pianist. And this particular Sunday was either a Veterans Day observance or Memorial Day, church was ending; as we got ready to sing the doxology. Mr. Johnson raised his hand to make an announcement. He said something to effect: “I know we’re not going to leave church and not sing a patriotic song! And we have veterans here!” Of course he said it in his own comical way. So the pastor asked veterans to stand and we sang “God bless America” or “My Country tis of Thee!” Of course, we smiled and sang with uplifted voices. Mr. J, as he was affectionately called, was the epitome of the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling. He could walk with kings and not lose the common touch. He could talk to anybody!!! I remember, as a youngster, seeing his mother sing on a program at old Mt. Tabor Baptist church. She was a piano teacher –he favored her. She played and sang, “Trees” by Joyce Kilmer. Leesburg is fortunate to have had a Mr. Johnson. Martha Mitchell
Mr. John Leslie Johnson was always a man who cared about the well-being of his community, and the people who lived in it. He was a man of honor, character and spontaneity. I had the honor of working with him in his roles as an educator, a community advocate, and an advisor. Mr. Johnson was very active and involved in the work of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Committee of which he served as treasurer for many years. For years, he worked with my father, Curtis Colter, Commander, and others in the work of the American Legion where he also served as Commander. Although he was admired as a principal in our school system with the admiration of children, administrators, teachers and parents, he loved and admired his work in the community because he wanted to be a source of bringing about change and making a difference. What a giant of a man! Carolyn Samuel
Mr. Johnson always had a smile when we were in his presence and always willing to help serve in the community. One of many things we always admired and was impressed by is that Mr. Johnson always, always gave encouraging and uplifting words with a little piece of History whenever our conversations with him. There are so many different adjectives we could say to describe him and ALL of his dedication and work in our community. He will truly be missed. May God Bless the Family of Mr. Leslie Johnson and give them Peace and Comfort. With Love, Max Jr. and Vonda R. Parker
I, as well as many others in our community, were very saddened to hear of Mr. John L. Johnson’s passing. He was a community leader and friend of the police department in many ways. When times of challenge arose, we could always count on Mr. Johnson to work as a resolving conduit in any situation. He also volunteered his time to our pension board and provided well-educated guidance in all of our endeavors. Many department members also remembered him for his dedication to our youth and his service as Principal of Dabney School. I cannot remember a time when I saw him that he didn’t have a smile on his face. Similarly, when we spoke he always had a kind word or offered helpful counsel. John L. Johnson was a steadfast pillar in our community and he will be sadly missed by all who knew him. Rob Hicks, MBA, CPM Chief of Police Leesburg Police Department
Unfortunately, I have to say I didn’t know him all that well. I did have the honor working with him a short time while he served on the Carver Heights CRA Board. He will be remembered for being an affable, intelligent, well-spoken man. He captured your attention, when he spoke you listened and he used his positive attributes for the betterment of the community. He’ll be missed. Al Minner, Leesburg City Manager
I met Mr. Johnson in 2010 through his affiliation with the West Leesburg Community Development Corporation. From the very beginning, he would talk about his younger days in the community. His love for playing his instruments and teaching others to play was usually his main topic. He was one of the first board members of our organization and remained faithful and generous until his health started failing. Cassandra Cunningham
The Johnsons and the Berrys have been close friends for three generations. My friendship with John Leslie Johnson spans almost 70 years, beginning in 1955 when I arrived in Leesburg – with Leslie being a childhood friend of my late husband, L. J. During this time, our lives have been intertwined in so many ways, as neighbors, members of St. Paul A.M.E. Church, public school teachers, building the West Leesburg CDC, and the rearing of our children. But most important, as friends. It would be difficult to assess the long list of contributions Leslie made over his lifetime- and impossible to count the number of lives he impacted. I will truly miss my friend and colleague, as will Lake County. One of Leesburg’s giants is gone. Agnes Berry
Mr. Johnson was truly an icon for the community. My first meeting with him about 16 years ago was at a political meeting. His first remarks to me were, “You are one of those Yankees here to make sure we vote. It took Yankees to wake us up” He had so much history to share and made sure he did at every opportunity. I really enjoyed watching him dance and just celebrate life. He will be missed. I pray that all that heard him and knew him will pass his legacy and history on. Lillian Lockette
Mr. Johnson was not only a pioneer of the Carver Heights community but a longtime neighbor as well. My most memorable memory of his life was the way he approached people with his gentle smile and always sharing his wealth of knowledge of history past and present. He will be missed, dearly. Iona Bowers
Truly, “Mr. Johnson” fondly as I have known and called, he has been a respected member and leader in the city of Leesburg, not only as an educator but also in the civic affairs and matters that had an effect on the improvements in lives of the economic conditions of the low-income and disadvantaged families that reside in the area. During the past ten years or more, I have had the honor to work with Mr. Johnson with the Public Housing Assistance Inc., the entity that owns and oversees the operations of the Mt. Clair Village Complex, where I am president. He has served as the vice president. He was quite a character and hilarious. I will certainly miss his trips down memory lane during the meetings. James Lowe
Mr. John Leslie Johnson was a man of integrity who was an inspiration in my life ever since I was a student at Dabney School, where he was the principal. Mr. Johnson had a way to encourage his administrators, his teachers and especially his students to do their ultimate best in whatever task or endeavor we undertook. His personality and the sincerity he exhibited for youth to be successful was very impactful. As I got older and attended middle, high school, and college, Mr. Johnson’s teaching and the love he showed for our community was a prominent part of my success as a city commissioner, a pastor, and a member of various boards for public and community organizations. Mr. J, as some of us affectionately called him, was a blessing to my life and I am assured he was to many others as well. We, the Leesburg community, have certainly lost a sweet soul, who was dedicated to the upliftment and the improvement of the quality of life for those he touched. Former Leesburg City Commissioner John Christian