For decades, James A. Johnson was the face of the Driving Park neighborhood, a man who had City Hall's ear while battling blight and crime and tirelessly working to rebuild his beloved community.
For decades, James A. Johnson was the face of the Driving Park neighborhood, a man who had City Hall’s ear while battling blight and crime and tirelessly working to rebuild his beloved community.
He was 86 and president of the Driving Park Civic Association when, while about to take his daily trip to the Applebee’s on E. Broad Street in Whitehall, he died of a heart attack on Jan. 29.
An Air Force veteran who worked as a military police officer at what was known at Lockbourne Air Force Base in the 1950s and ’60s, he turned his energies to his neighborhood while working as a security guard at the old Western Electric operation on the Far East Side.
His son Anton Johnson, who lived across Berkeley Road from his father, said James Johnson tired of the toll that blight was taking on his neighborhood. “He singlehandedly tried to take it on,” he said.
James Johnson formed the first Block Watch in the city in 1981. He was a longtime chairman of the Driving Park Area Commission.
“He was known and respected for being a servant of the highest integrity,” said Stacee Green, who worked with him in the civic association.
“I’ve never known Mr. J to have a pessimistic moment,” Green said.
His son said his father’s passion was to see the best in people.
In a statement, Mayor Michael B. Coleman said, “Mr. Johnson was an outstanding leader in the Columbus community. His contributions to the Driving Park neighborhood are unparalleled, and he will be greatly missed by not only me, but our entire city.”
Johnson, who was born in Mississippi on Oct. 14, 1927, was a member of the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame.
He is survived by his children, Anton of Columbus, Cassandra Johnson-McLean of Spokane, Wash., and James Johnson Jr., of Indianapolis; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Johnson’s wife, Klara, died in 2009.
Services will be held on Feb. 18 at Second Baptist Church, 186 N. 17th St., with a family hour from 10 to 11 a.m. and a public service from 11 a.m. to noon. Burial will be at 3 p.m. that day at the Dayton National Cemetery, 4100 W. 3rd St., in Dayton.