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Votes

Lord of Land Use

Joseph Johnson is Lord Fairfax for the Lee District.

Originally from Iowa, Joseph Johnson moved to the Springfield area in the 1950s. Settling in the Loisdale neighborhood, where he still lives, Johnson and his wife Bobbie Mae began to attend neighborhood meetings just to see what was going on. Ever since then, Joseph Johnson’s civic service résumé has grown longer and longer: treasurer for C-SPARC, Boy Scout troop founder, volunteer firefighter, president of the Loisdale Civic Association, member of the Lee District Association of Civic Organizations and representative on the Lee District Land Use and Transportation Advisory Committee. Recently, the recently-named Lord Fairfax sat down and answered some questions about himself and his community.

How long have you lived in the area? We moved into this house in January 1957. Our son was 1-year-old – he was 7 months, actually. I had gotten here by way of the Army, I’m originally from the Midwest. I joined the service, and I ended up out here for awhile. I went overseas, came back and just stayed here.

Family: We have two boys. [My wife] is Bobbie. She’s a Southern girl, her middle name is Mae.

Education: We got married, and I started school at George Washington University on a part-time basis. The government’s paying for it so, hey, I’m going to take it.

Professional life: When I got out of the service I went to work for the Judge Advocate General as a clerk. But what the heck, I got in. When I had two years of college, I was able to get a management training program. I’ve forgotten how long it was now, nine months I believe, we did four different divisions of the office of the Quartermaster Navy Supply and Accounts. We did a month in each one or something like that. I ended up in one of the accounting jobs after the course, and at that time we were doing all the transportation of things for the entire Navy … a budget job came open, I applied for it and got it. That’s how I got into the budget field, and I stayed in the budget people. I ended up at the Naval Air Station, next to Bolling. We funded the activities that nobody else wanted. It wasn’t a ship, so the NavSea didn’t want it, et cetera. The one ship that we did was the Constitution. It’s in Boston.

How did you become involved with civic associations? This [house] were the only funds I had at the time, so I wanted to make sure they were clear, safe. I just wanted to make sure I knew what was going on. Besides that I was nosy, you know. So [Bobbie Mae] got involved first with Springfield Civic Association. We only had one car at the time and I guess I had taken her to the meeting. She asked if anyone would take her home, and they asked her where she lived and she said, "Loisdale." They said, "Way down there?" We finally got an association going here, and then I found out about the Lee District Association and started going to that when nobody else wanted to go. Hey, we got all the scoop then. The supervisor met with us every week. It went from there, first one thing and then another. One of the things we were doing at Lee District meetings were land use. We were doing land use there and it was taking up so much of our time that we created the Land-Use Committee as a separate committee.

Activities/interests/hobbies: I guess dancing is our main one, and that’s about it. We go to Fort Belvoir on Wednesday nights and have dinner and dance. We go to a studio on Saturday night. It’s a nice studio, if you’re familiar with Generous George’s on Duke Street, it’s right across the street.

What accomplishments are you most proud of? The Les Dorson Award … and Lord Fairfax. Les Dorson was the first vice-chairman of the Lee District Federation. He was vice-chairman from the day they inaugurated it until the day he died. That was probably 30, 40 years ago. He was very adamant about how things developed in Lee District. He took a big role in seeing that things went right, and this is where the land-use part of Lee District Federation came in.

Community concerns: I think most of the problems have to do with failure to comply with zoning ordinances. I’ve got to say it, it’s mostly immigrants that can’t afford by themselves — through no fault of their own, really — a place to live. So what they do, they get together with other people and they all buy a house and then instead of one family in the house you have four families. When you have that many people in one house, and every one of them has a car, you have five, six, seven, eight cars where there should be two, three or four. It’s just too many cars on the street and that’s a lot of people in the house.

If you could go anywhere in the U.S. on a road trip, where would you go? We’ve been to California, I’d like to go again. I’ve got the car, now I can’t get [Bobbie Mae] to go. [We drove cross-country] in 1954. We had a ’53 Chevrolet Club Coupe. The Club Coupe had a seat in the back, the Coupe didn’t. We went from here to Iowa to see my mother, by way of St. Louis, then we went to Omaha, Neb. From there we went north to South Dakota. We went through the Corn Palace, then across through the Badlands up to Mount Rushmore. Then we went across Montana, through Cody and into Yellowstone. Then we went south a ways, turned west again and went through Oregon. We went to Bend, Ore. … then from there we went down the Redwood Drive through California into San Francisco.

How has the community changed since you have lived here? It got bigger. I think it has been allowed to grow responsibly. That’s a result of Lee District land use. Now we’re working on trying to re-do Springfield.

How would you most like to spend one day? One day? Oh, I don’t know. One of the things I still want to do — and I still may do it one day — I want to take a cruise around Cape Horn. Now if I really had a lot of money I’d do the whole thing, where you go to Antarctica too.

Personal goals: To live, at our age. To live and travel.

— Lea Mae Rice