The Daily News and its readers were fortunate to have had a long association with William Johnson. He wrote the paper’s gardening column for so long no one at The Daily News now can recall just how long; it was years and years. Johnson’s long run as a writer ended sadly and suddenly with his death Feb. 12.
Johnson wrote lots of columns, seldom missed a week. What matters most about him in that context wasn’t the quantity, however, but the quality. He always made his deadline, and his copy was clean. Those are two of the highest compliments an editor can pay, but they don’t get near capturing why he was so popular and well-respected.
Johnson was an expert in his field of horticulture, held a doctorate degree and was highly informed about anything with roots and leaves. Lots of highly educated and informed people never achieved the near-universal regard that Johnson enjoyed, however.
Reading Johnson’s columns about plants, it was easy to find the human in the static words on the dry paper. He got across important facts, but what made him beloved even to people who’d never met him in the flesh was his own passion, compassion, kindness, humor and humility; his own personality revealed in the words. To read the columns was to meet the man, and he was someone worth knowing, a learned gentleman of the old school.
A rare breed.
The task today is to honor William Johnson for a lifetime of achievement. He had many, some obvious and obviously unknown to this writer. What is clear is that William Johnson spent a lot of his life in the service of plants and planting, educating, informing and inspiring people to make the world greener and more beautiful. He did so with authorial skill and integrity. He left his audience wanting more. You can be sure people wept at his passing.
We should all hope for such an achievement in life.