R.W. Johnson, longtime Anoka County attorney, WWII vet, diesby Rupa Shenoy, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — R.W. Johnson, former Anoka County attorney and World War II combat veteran, has died at the age of 93. Johnson, who served as county attorney for 32 years, is remembered as a pillar of his community.
In the 1930s, when R.W. Johnson was a teenager growing up on a farm in Ramsey, the chimney in his family's home caught fire and the house burned down.
R.W. often thought back on how his father, A.D.W. Johnson, handled the tragedy. He told the story to his children, including son M.A. Johnson.
"And dad says when the fires were still smoldering A.D.W. was drawing, out in the snow, plans for a new house," said M.A. Johnson.
M.A. Johnson said it was that kind of positive determination that guided his father's life.
R.W. was a high school football player who went on to play guard and tackle for the University of Minnesota, where he earned a business degree. When World War II broke out, R.W. and his friend Orville Freeman signed up with the Second Marine Division. R.W. ended up on the front lines in the Pacific.
"When faced on Guadalcanal with a Japanese soldier in a kamikaze charge, face to face, and having to kill the person by hand or be killed -- he never forgot the value of life from that dramatic experience. It certainly shaped in part where he went from there," said M.A. Johnson.
After the war, R.W. returned to Minnesota, and he never left again. He got a law degree, set up practice in Anoka, and served as municipal judge before his first successful run for Anoka County attorney in 1950.
M.A. Johnson, the current Anoka County attorney, served as his father's chief deputy for eight years. He said R.W. did his job with compassion and empathy for victims and offenders.
"He always saw the whole person. He saw the good and the bad, and understood that people are multi-faceted," said M.A. "There are truly evil people, but there are very few of those. Most of us have many pieces, and dad would see all the pieces."
R.W. was like a second father to his grandson, Brad Johnson, who said his grandfather passed down basic principles, like the duty you have to the place you came from.
"There was nothing that meant more to my grandfather than his home community. He viewed the community as being an extension of his family," said Brad Johnson. "My grandfather was the gold standard by which all public servants should be measured."
R. W. Johnson is survived by his wife, Charlote, and their children, 12 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
- Morning Edition, 11/11/2010, 7:45 a.m.