Reginald D. Johnson

by Phil Johnson

September 19, 1927
 July 16, 1992

Perhaps it is common to respect one’s older brother. I loved and respected mine. After all, my big brother was the formidable Reginald Johnson. I know few people more resourceful than or as practical as he. This was true in spite of the fact that Reg became increasingly convinced as the years passed that everything was in God’s hands.

Perhaps this conviction developed and deepened as a result of several close calls with death. At age 18, he was cleaning out under a saw in the Insulite Plant in International Falls, Minnesota. The saw was off but still spinning at high speed. He thought he heard someone call his name and instinctively straightened up. The saw cut open his head to “within a paper’s width of his brain.” In Korea, a bullet passed through the armpit of his shirt. In a blinding snow storm just north of Virginia, Minnesota on Highway 53, a car crashed head-on into the one he was driving. In 1971 when the furnace exploded in his farmhouse in Wisconsin, he was burned to within a whisker of his life. Had his son Greg not been there, Reg would have died.

Perhaps these experiences of helplessness revealed the Grace and gift of life, because in them even Reg was totally dependent upon things and people beyond himself. The power upon which all life depended was made clear. In these experiences a person knew firsthand the majesty and independence of God.

Reg seldom hesitated to express his opinion. Sense and nonsense were clear to him, and he had a sure eye for what was necessary. As a paratrooper in the Army, he decided he wanted to quit jumping out of airplanes. While waiting for an interview for a clerical job, he noticed a book on the principles of a particular accounting method. During the interview he was asked if he knew that method of accounting. “Yes,” he answered. On the way out, he stuffed the book in his pocket, read it, and was ready for the job.

His adventures as a bank teller, gold miner, lumber mill worker, telephone lineman, car dealer, construction worker, electrician, and, finally, businessman owning and operating an electrical contracting company testify to his intelligence and ingenuity. He started with nothing and always worked in the light of the reality of nothing, just as his life was given by the Grace of God in light of the reality of death.

One of the best things God, in Grace, gave Reg was the opportunity to fall in love with and be loved by Betty Sumey. After their wedding in 1952, I fired off a bunch of flares—supplied by my Marine Corp brother, Bob—into the night sky. Reg and Betty’s marriage was something to celebrate, as has been their life together. They brought three strong sons into the world: Rob, Todd, and Greg.

Reg mastered more fully than most the ability to say no. Measured by Jesus’ admonition to “let your yea be yea and your nay be nay,” Reg was in pretty good shape. Those working for and with Reg knew how tough and fair he was. He was my first employer, so I am familiar with his expectations. Back in the 40s, he paid me a nickel a pair to shine his shoes. Reg had done, or was willing to do, anything he expected of someone working for him. Though generous as well as fair, he was not slow to make a judgment or to take action.

But when it came to deciding who were the children of God and who were not, Reg declared himself to be no judge. Such judgments were God’s business, and he was impatient with evangelists who offered people a formula for what to do to be saved. “I can’t find that when I read scripture,” he would say. “It’s not in my Bible.” Once he told me that if he were to bet on those whom God would not receive into heaven, there were only two candidates he would even consider betting on. One was Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, the persecutor of Elijah. The other was Judas, the betrayer of Jesus.

Reg was generous to Pietisten even though he was a bit skeptical. He wrote (Summer, 1987), “You’ve made God (in “God Went Away”—Vol. II, No. I) about six inches taller than you, able to lift about 50 pounds more than you and who can throw you a rope when you’re in the quicksand.” In Spring, 1988 he wrote, “I praise God for Pietisten. It drives me to the ‘word’ to see ‘whether or not these things be so.’” He would call me after he had received an issue and we would discuss it at length. Reg was definitely a serious Bible student and rigorously followed every clue.

The last months of Reg’s life were hard for Betty and the family. It was difficult and awkward to watch a person who had been so strong and dominant weaken steadily before one’s eyes. But as that happened, his faith deepened and his feelings toward others became more evident. Tears were not too frequent through most of Reg’s life, but they began to flow more freely in the last months. The tears that flowed were mostly tears of gratitude. He said, with tears and in deep sickness, “Everybody is so good to me.” And he said, “There is one thing for humans to do before God and that is to give thanks.” During his last days, he was awed by the thought that “God will praise me. I can’t imagine why, but the Bible says He will.”

The last week of Reg’s life was a combination of odyssey and of lying in wait in the midst of sickness. In a rented motor home, Reg, Betty, and son Todd and family journeyed to some of the old spots of Reg’s life. They drove to Dawson, Minnesota to visit the church and farms where our parents Lloyd and Esther Johnson grew up. Then they visited the Free Church in Alvwood, Minnesota where Dad was pastor and Reg reached teen age. They drove on to International Falls, the last family home and hometown of both Reg and Betty. Finally, they arrived at their farm near Boyceville, Wisconsin, a place Reg loved dearly. By the time they returned home to Vandalia, Reg began to plead with God, saying, “Take me up.” When asked, “I suppose you’ve had a lot of time to think, Reg,” he said, “Yes, but I don’t think of death; I think of the Jubilee.”

So, husband, father, father-in-law, grandfather, brother, brother-in-law, friend, and Uncle Reg, we pray that the Jubilee is astounding you. Thanks for the taste of that Jubilee you have left with us.

But even so, nothing, Dear Reg, not even you, can stop us from missing you.