The late Kathie Johnson was unforgettable to many

Kathie Johnson

I was shocked and saddened to learn of the death of longtime Wayland High School language arts teacher Kathie Johnson.

Kathie was a true original, and as Queen Elizabeth said of Princess Diana, there was “no one like her.”

My niece, Tonya Cheyne, often told me how Ms. Johnson was her favorite teacher, mostly because of her passion for the subject, sense of humor and genuine compassion.

My son, Robert, said indeed she was memorable during his days in prep school, though he was much more into math and science. He was impressed by her intelligence, sense of humor and compassion.

There were many others who apparently agreed with the above assessments. She was granted a state award as one of many teachers of the year in 1997 and she was selected for the coveted annual Kathryn L. Brenner Award for excellence in teaching in 2004. I overheard more than just a few declare she was most deserving.

So some might believe Kathie Johnson led a charmed life, enjoying a 30-year career doing what she was good at and cared about, but I always suspected in the back of my mind that she was plagued by self doubt.

She was loaded with sarcasm, one of her most obvious personality features. I remember she referred to her pastor as “Elwyn P. Dowd” after the main character in the play “Harvey.”

But Kathie Johnson often was a joy with whom to carry on a conversation.

A couple of my earliest recollections were about a made-for-television movie, “Larry,” starring a very young Tyne Daly, about a young man misdiagnosed as being mentally challenged. Both of us talked at length about how fascinating the subject matter was.

On another occasion, we conversed at length about the film “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” agreeing that it was one of the very few movies that was just as good as the book by Ken Kesey. Another example was Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” with Oscar winner Gregory Peck.

Ms. Johnson and I got a real kick out of Christopher Lloyd’s classic line “Knock off da bullshit.”

We agreed with the Oscar picks for Jack Nicholson, Louise Fletcher and best film and director, and noted the stunningly quality supporting performances by Lloyd and Danny DeVito (both later to star on “Taxi”) and the guy who played Billy Bibbitt.

After I left Wayland in 1976 to take a job with a small daily newspaper, I had very little contact with Kathie, though the first time I entered Wayland High School in 1986 after returning from the east side of the state for 10 years, she walked across the gym floor to greet me with a smile. I also saw her at Wildcat volleyball matches as her longtime partner, Bart Volkers, had daughters on the team.

Through it all I found Kathie Johnson to possess an abundance of wit, intelligence, compassion, mystery and perception.

Probably the last time I spoke with her, I mentioned that she was famous for being sarcastic.

She just smiled, put her hand on her chest and replied, Moi?” 

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