DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Life Events > In memoriam: William "Bill" Johnson, father of Interim Associate Provost Valerie Johnson

In memoriam: William "Bill" Johnson, father of Interim Associate Provost Valerie Johnson

Stained glass
(DePaul University/Jamie Moncrief)

It is with sadness that we learned of the death of William "Bill" Johnson, the father of Valerie C. Johnson, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and the Interim Associate Provost of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. He passed away on Sunday, April 23, at the age of 90.

Johnson was born in Winston Salem, N.C., and like many African American men of his time, his early experiences growing up during the Great Depression and in the Jim Crow South shaped his approach to life. This included his work ethic, his union activism and his politics. His upbringing also governed an immense pride in his surroundings, which were always adorned with beautiful flowers and a neatly manicured lawn.

William Johnson
William Johnson (Family photo)
Johnson attended Atkins High School, then joined the U.S. Army and served four years in France. Upon receiving his honorable discharge, he returned to Winston Salem, where he married Grace Heffney. The young family moved in 1956 to Buffalo, N.Y., where Johnson joined Bethlehem Steel in nearby Lackawanna. He was employed there for 36 years. Later, he worked for Laidlaw Transit Inc. as a school bus driver for 11 years.

Upon retirement, Johnson turned to community engagement and became president of the board of a community-based organization.

In 1986, he married Ethelda Graham, with whom he had a loving and committed partnership until her passing in 2014. Johnson loved life and the outdoors. He was a renaissance man who could fix and build anything. He was an avid gardener, fisherman, golfer and hunter, and was a 32-degree Mason, at Hadji Shrine Temple, No. 61. He received numerous awards for community service, including the "One Person Can Make a Difference" award from the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County. He was also the author of "Blood Cries," a book of essays and life reflections.

Johnson is survived by two children, a son, William "Billy" Johnson IV (Linda) of Grand Island, N.Y., and a daughter, Valerie C. Johnson of Chicago; two stepdaughters, Leisha Gordon, of Williamsville, N.Y., and Sabrina Graham, of Buffalo; one granddaughter, Brianna Johnson-Callicut (Jamaal) of Memphis; two step-grandsons, Evan Kendall of Omaha and Stephen Kendall of Amherst, N.Y.; one brother, Apostle Sylvester Davis Johnson of Winston Salem; and cherished friend Deanna King of Buffalo.

Johnson knew and loved God and had a deep and abiding faith to the very end of his life. He also loved his family and found great pride in being the oldest of 10 children born to his parents, who were pillars in the religious community. His final refrain was, "Trust God!"