Today I want to rant to you about good friends who go to God too soon, and leave the rest of us behind to miss them. In this case a pal of mine for many years, Ron Johnson, left us last week and left a very big hole in the world. I’m not someone who has a long list of friends. I’ve spent my life on the road and in the office and in those rare moments when I can, I try to find a few days at home with Laree and the dogs. But that means that the friends I do have are all the more important because there are few of them, and they are the kind of friends that will stick with you even though we see each other infrequently. I can’t afford to lose any of these, but I just did.

Ron was jovial and friendly to me from the first moment I stepped foot in Southern California. I don’t know exactly when we met, but it was back there in the 70’s when I moved to southern California for a professoring job at Cal State Fullerton, and simultaneously made contact with some of the major Bluegrass people, notably Byron Berline, and John Hickman. In those days I was close to certifiable, a madman who was trying to make tenure, deal effectively with students, and also be on the road playing music. It made me crazy, and In spite of a short-tempered and raspy personality, Ron just came around the gigs and acted like he was happy to see me.

After I got to know him a little better, I discovered that he was an accomplished commercial artist doing business all over southern California, with clients all over the business spectrum, and his favorite arenas were music and also hot rods. He did some very pretty art work for us, made us look good on album covers, thought up logos, and generally lent a very professional hand to a bunch of hairy-armed musicians who didn’t have much money and he didn’t charge us much, or in many cases, at all. Ron was always positive, always joking, and always looking for ways to help out. When I moved away from the LA area, he kept in touch and continued helping out by brokering gigs for me when I returned occasionally to the old stomping grounds.

As the years go by we tend to adjust our criteria for whether people and lives are lived well. These days I have to say that one acid test of a life is the quality of the guy’s family relationships. Ron Johnson was as happily and cheerfully devoted to his wife and daughter as anybody I ever knew, and it was mutual. You can tell these things: Ron talked about wife Lynda all the time, and it was always about some funny or interesting thing she had said, some joke they had together, or some other in-passing little connection, and always positive and a little playful. Guys talk, you know, and Ron never missed a chance include something affectionate about Lynda. Same with daughter Jolee… he bragged on her music, always told me of something cool she was up to, and just relished being happy to be among these women he adored.

So I have friends who have done some “big things” that got them fame and notoriety, planted flags on the various “14-ers” of their worlds, made PhD, made records, made waves, some even made money and history. But at this stage, I’m in awe of a guy who can be in love with one woman over the changes and adventures of life, raise a kid who thinks he walks on water, and be a good friend to some difficult, half-nuts, artistic, hard-headed people around him. People get by, make peace with the old lady, tough it out, muddle through to the end. But loving your spouse and kids all the time, like it’s fun and you’re having a blast, all while being a solid friend to your pals… that my dear readers is one of the major, and also rare accomplishments of a life. I don’t see it very often, and when I do, I know it’s a man who really did something.

I’m very sorry Ron isn’t around anymore to continue the connections and the bonhomie, and I grieve with Lynda and Jolee who have lost him. But for now, here’s to the old boy for his life, his good humor and his friendship. Bon voyage Ron Johnson.

Dan Crary, June 2011

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