What is the measure of a man?
Is it the degree of devotion by his loving wife? Is it the respect and
admiration of his grateful children? Is it the way his grandchild giggles
when he kisses her plump cheek?
Is it the way he, despite great personal discomfort, soldiers on, driven
by an unbreakable commitment to his family? Or is it the way he stands
his ground - nay, moves forward -- into the killing zone of the beast,
appropriately afraid, but resolved to fight to the last breath for what's
right, what's fair, and what's good?
Of course, it's all these things. It's a rare thing when a man
measures up on all counts. But, call it luck, call it destiny, call it
whatever, I have been honored and blessed to meet such a man, and call
him my friend. His name is John Johnson, an ordinary guy who did extraordinary
things in his 69 years on this orb.
My friend John died today. And I am sad. I am sad for his family -- Sue,
who stood by him, bathed him, fed him, cared for him, made him laugh,
held him the way a mother holds a child, and, in the end, against every
fiber in her body, had to let him go, had to say goodbye to the only man
she's ever loved, the man who had become a part of her like an arm,
a leg or a beating heart.
I am sad for his sons Mike and Ronald. Mike, like his father, is an embodiment
of both tenacity and tenderness. When his Dad was diagnosed with mesothelioma
back in the summer of 2011, Mike, a bicycle racer, vowed to win the national
championships in his Dad's honor. With a lap to go, bad luck struck.
Mike crashed, along with his quest to bestow upon his father the coveted
Stars and Bars jersey.
On Sunday, Mike and I went for a ride, a hilly ride in North San Diego
County. John, after a massive
surgery and 28 rounds of
radiation, despite his grit to persevere, was getting weaker as the pain ratcheted
upward. Mike is not a dramatic guy. He sort of whispered that this ride
was for his Dad, sensing, I think, that the end was near, and he needed
to appeal to something bigger than himself, to rise above limits, just
like his Dad had done the past six months.
Mike felt the spirit, and had the ride of his life, and it was both wonderful
and daunting to keep up with such a motivated man on a spiritual mission.
I am sad, but honored. It's not very often that you come across a man
like John Johnson. His obit will say he was a US Marine who loved mountain
bikes. It will say he married the love of his life, Sue, 46 years ago,
and they fathered two fit and robust boys. It will say he was plumber
and an auto mechanic who was exposed to asbestos. It will say he was diagnosed
with mesothelioma in August of 2011, had two surgeries, was blasted with
radiation, and never gave up hope.
I will remember him for these things, yes, but more than that: his capacity
to endure pain for the love of his family. We like to say that the recently
departed died with dignity and honor, we say these things because we don't
know what else to say and it sounds right and reverential. But I am saying
John Johnson died with dignity:
I know it.
On behalf of my partner
John Caron, and everyone in my office who were privileged to work with John, we extend
our deepest sympathies to Sue, Michael, Nicole, Ronald, Alexa and Noah.
We lost a great man, but his legacy of grit with grace will live on, forever.
John Johnson, rest in peace.