There was a great deal of story telling going on when Anne and Art Johnson celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary July 20. Considering what each has accomplished during the past half-century, it would be difficult not to pay tribute to their innumerable achievements.
The Johnsons lived on Red Barn Lane, where they raised children and horses, hosted never-ending fundraisers for various political and civic causes, opened their guest house doors for many groups who needed space to prepare for benefits, and never seemed to understand "No."
"Let the toasts begin," their daughter, emcee Joy Johnson, should have said. On second thought, it wasn’t necessary. Following dinner in the Chevy Chase Club ballroom, where 135 guests dined on vichyssoise, filet mignon, scallops and peppermint ice cream, friends and family alike took to the microphone.
JOY JOHNSON AND her cousin-in-law, Clancy Thompson, orchestrated the entertainment for the golden anniversary achievers, including a pianist, a "rocket launching" and amusing speeches — of the latter, some were short and poetic; others, well, let’s just say the orators had a lot on which to expound.
One of the most interesting stories told was by Joy. The incident occurred on a cold January day when one of the Johnson horses decided to take a swim in their pool. Although the green pool cover was in place, it proved no deterrent when the equine decided to bolt the pool fence and dive in. "He must have thought the green cover was pasture," Anne later added. Anne’s years as the district commissioner of the Potomac Pony Club, and lessons learned from this experience, no doubt proved advantageous in this rescue effort.
Fortunately, daughter Christy Johnson was at home and was able to assist in the rescue. The horse was swimming under the pool cover to the deep end. After the cover was removed Christy jumped into the freezing water. She hooked a lead line to the horse’s halter, got him turned around and swam him back to the shallow end where there were steps they used to scramble out.
When the fire department and vet finally arrived, the horse was wrapped in blankets ("My good ones!" Anne added) and was continuously walked, to warm him up.
Many of the toasts related to Anne and Art’s many volunteer endeavors, including Anne’s work with the Union Theological Seminary, New York City, from where she graduated and where she later became chairwoman of the board of trustees. She is presently a volunteer for the Presbyterian Church working in many areas, including issues of social justice. She volunteers many hours working on the national level of Planned Parenthood and is also an active alumna of Smith College.
Art’s hands were also continuously busy. Following his retirement from the U.S. Weather Bureau’s international division, he was engaged in several nonprofits. He served as a board member of Mercy Corps, United Nations Association and West Montgomery County Citizens Association, of which he was president for four years. In 1977 he was presented the Potomac Citizen of the Year Award for his many hours of volunteerism.
The one board chairmanship which he wishes had never come about was for an organization he and Anne instigated following the tragic death of their daughter, Christy, in January 1987. After the horrific Amtrak wreck in Chase, Md., where Joy and 15 others were killed, the Johnsons founded Safe Travel America. Art served as chairman of this group which spearheaded the drive that eventually got a law passed through Congress requiring random mandatory drug and alcohol testing for people in safety-sensitive positions.
AMONG THE SEVERAL dozen toasts honoring the couple at their golden wedding anniversary celebration, former Maryland Delegate Jean Cryor said it best. "Not only have they lived life, they have shown us how to do it," she advised.
Apparently many of the guests felt the same way. They flew in from coast-to-coast to attend the party. In addition to Joy Johnson and daughter Vivi from Denver, Art’s son Paul Johnson and his wife Deborah Parker arrived from Boston. Anne’s brother William Hale III came from Rochester, N.Y., Anne’s hometown, where the Hale family has been associated with the University of Rochester for generations. From brother William’s witty remarks, it was easily understood why, many years ago, he was dubbed by the children, "Uncle Welcome."
The Nichol family, children of the late Henry and Betty Nichol, all of whom grew up in Potomac, were in the gathering. Peter Nichol, who many in Potomac will recall as a youngster, rode his unicycle in the Potomac Day parades. He and his wife, Jane, came from Boston. Peter is now a science teacher in Concord, Mass. His sister Liz came from Colorado Springs and brother Dr. David Nichol flew in from Denver. To complete the Nichol family, Susan Nichol Thompson with her husband Clancy arrived from Wilmington, N.C.
There were also plenty of hometown guests to welcome the travelers including Nan and Manning Muntzing who recently treated their children and grandchildren (16 in toto) to a Montana excursion; Mary and Jack Kalagher, Sharon and Harry Lerch, Roger and Cathie Titus, Marilyn and Harold Dankner, Judy Jacobson, Jane and Phillip Ross, Gerry Hall and David Nickels and dozens more.
Potomac Theatre Co. president Ruby Wingate, also among the many, happily told friends it has just been announced that the Ruby Griffin Award, for outstanding achievement in a musical, was won by the Potomac group for its recent production of "Nunsense."
But for one exception, there was good news all around. "Just as I was getting ready for the party I got a call from Shady Grove Hospital. Randy [their son] was thrown from his horse," Anne said Following several stitches in the back of his head, and a diagnosed concussion, he was later released.
He surely missed a golden opportunity.