Clifford O. Johnson was an uncommonly good and talented man. He was a family man, person of faith, educator, advocate for civil rights and a sportsman. Mr. Johnson earned academic degrees from YSU, Westminster College and KSU that helped him to be what he was.
The shock of Cliff's death at 5:30 a.m. Dec. 4 at age 76 was huge. He had returned from his daily walk in Perkins Park with friends and was about to shower, when Lillie, his wife, heard Cliff fall to the floor. The end came quickly but not the grieving by family and friends. Louise Shultz unwittingly came to the front door at 8 a.m. with a cake for the annual Advent celebration hosted by the Johnson family. She was among the first of their friends to learn of his death. His "Home Going Celebration" was held with a full sanctuary at 10 a.m. Dec. 12 at the Second Baptist Church on South Main Street in Warren.
Cliff and Lillie, their two sons, Brian and Mark, lived diagonally across the street when we moved to Warren in 1976. They had moved to the neighborhood several years before we arrived. We were aware of comings and goings. Over the years, we learned the family members were actively involved individually in a multitude of good works and activities.
Cliff was a high-energy guy. Years before he walked in Perkins Park, he sometimes jogged in his neighborhood, hours before sunrise. As he told the story, one morning he noticed a car following him some distance to the rear. Several mornings later he noticed the vehicle was a police car. The supposition was this new man in the neighborhood, running at an "unlikely" time for most people, might be "up to no good!" Cliff in due course engaged the officer in a congenial manner, identified himself as a nearby resident and established that he was not a threat to anyone. He was only getting in an hour's run before he began his day's work as a teacher. From then on no car followed him during the morning runs.
Years ago, he used to spend time personally working on his front yard. Just about every other car that passed along Crescent Drive honked a horn at Cliff. He returned the greetings with a smile and a wave. His 27-inch obituary in the Tribune Dec. 8 and opinion page cartoon Dec. 13 attest to his involvement and why so many were acquainted with him.
One time he asked me when I became aware of segregation. I was born in Boston and lived in and around that area in my developmental years. While I was aware, I told him, of segregation from academic exposure in schools, I did not become emotionally aware until age 20 (1950) when I took a Greyhound along U.S. 50 from Washington, D.C., to Cincinnati, sponsored by my university Student Christian Association, and saw "colored only" signs at water fountains and restrooms for the first time. He said, "That was a learning experience, wasn't it!"
Cliff loved to sing. His entire family has musical interests. Lillie, a retired music teacher from the Warren City Schools, has a master's degree in music from YSU. Mrs. Johnson is currently vice president of the Warren Philharmonic Orchestra. We lost some touch with Mark when he moved to Manhattan years ago for a successful career in merchandising with Lord and Taylor's department store. Following Brian Johnson, the older son, as a music teacher in Akron and an accomplished baritone soloist has been easier. He performed brilliantly last month when the Warren Philharmonic presented its winter program at Christ Episcopal Church on Atlantic. Brian sang Figaro's aria from "The Barber of Seville" by Rossini, "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'" by Gershwin and several other pieces to rounds of enthusiastic applause from 300 people in the audience and acclaim from conductor Susan Davenny Wyner.
What a legacy of achievement Cliff Johnson has left for Trumbull County and Warren: basketball referee, tennis companion, early morning walker, Army veteran, administrator, civil rights activist, counselor, devoted husband, firm but inspiring father and father figure to many former students. His memory challenges all to equal what he did so unselfishly.