Ted Johnston – 1935 – 2020
The Nawash community buried Ted Johnston last week. The community centre was full at his wake. People wanted to pay their respects. That’s a good word for Ted – respect. He gave it and you wanted to give it back.
I don’t know much about what Ted Johnston did in his life. I know he was in the military – the RCAF, and he wore the blue beret of a UN Peacekeeper. I knew he had a family and daughters – lots of daughters, strong women each in their own way. And I knew that he was a Justice of the Peace in Owen Sound for years.
But these things are not what I remember about Ted.
When he was still a JP, I remember a meeting he and I were at. I won’t go into details – those are not important here – except to say it was a meeting of the justice community in Owen Sound, called by the Senior Crown for the region. Police, Crown attorneys, JPs, folks from Nawash came together to talk about some troublesome things left unsettled from the beating and stabbing of four young men from Nawash.
It was a tough meeting and as will happen at tough meetings, some began to whitewash what had happened. Finally, Ted spoke – quietly but straight from the shoulder. Yes, there was discrimination – he had experienced it. Yes, there was racism. People listened, because that it what you did when Ted spoke.
People heard the message, perhaps for the first time. Something changed in that room that day. Perhaps it was a kind of healing.
But even this is not what I remember most. What I remember most is how Ted Johnston was in the world.
He was the sort of man you wanted to walk with. Either in the military way, boldly marching, arms swinging, boots shiny and pointing straight ahead at some enemy or for some cause. Or softly ambling through his well-trimmed apple orchard that the bees would favour in the spring. Hands in pockets as men do, fingering loose change or a small pocketknife, walking along, one turning to the other to say something and the other bending their ear to catch the conversation.
In all our talks he never gave advice. It wasn’t that I didn’t need it, but it was there if I wanted it. That’s how it is with elders. You never get free advice – they are too respectful to assume you need it. You have to ask for it. Sometimes you have to earn it.