“Stumpy” – a hero to allPublished 9:04am Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Glenn “Stumpy” Johnson didn’t earn a Bronze Star for Valor during his days fighting for America’s freedom in World War II.
However, Stumpy is buried with that prestigious military medal pinned to his suit.
Stumpy Johnson died last week at the age of 87. He was my now late mother’s first cousin. They grew up together in the Pinetops community, on adjoining family farms divided only by an invisible line that separates Northampton from Hertford County.
He and his wife, Margaret, reared two children, Debbie and “Bunky” (aka Glenn Jr.). Debbie and I were the same age; Bunky a few years younger. Oh what great times we had growing up….working on the respective family farms (and pitching in to help each other); playing all sorts of games (and getting into all sorts of mischief); attending church together; enjoying family outings together….doing exactly what close relatives love to do.
Stumpy and Margaret were like a second set of parents, and they didn’t hesitate to dole out discipline when needed. They were perfect role models.
Like my now late dad, Stumpy also loved athletics and served for years as a youth baseball/softball coach. I learned a lot from Stumpy, about the spirit of competition; about love of family; about life in general.
I could go on and on with my personal tribute to Stumpy, but it would pale in comparison to the words offered during his funeral held last Wednesday at Ashley’s Grove Baptist Church.
There, Pastor David Ross did a marvelous job connecting the dots of Stumpy’s life, linking his message around my late cousin’s love of family, farming and athletics. But there was a surprise tribute, one that accurately summed up the life that Stumpy Johnson led.
Jimmy Hicks was raised just across the road from the Johnsons. His family were tenants on a farm owned by Tommy Revelle. Like most enterprising youth, Jimmy went in search of “side jobs” to make a little cash. What Jimmy didn’t bargain for was that he earned more than money from Stumpy.
He told the story of first crossing the road in search of work. Stumpy filled that request, initially having Jimmy haul dirt in a wagon for Margaret to use in her flower beds. That eventually led Jimmy to a job cutting the grass at the Johnson home place, then to helping Stumpy on the farm. As Jimmy grew older, so did the level of his farming chores.
He said that while he looked forward to receiving payment for his work, it was the lessons in life taught by Stumpy that proved more valuable. Jimmy shared his life’s ambition to attend college, but knew that wasn’t possible being the son of a tenant farmer.
However, Stumpy offered words of encouragement, telling Jimmy to pursue his dreams. That eventually led Jimmy to enjoy a 21-year career in the 81st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. He said he traveled the world in the Army, seeing places he had only dreamed of as a child.
This past January at the age of 51, Jimmy Hicks enrolled at Fayetteville State University where he is seeking a degree in Information Technology. He said at the funeral that none of the success of his life to date would have been possible without the words of encouragement offered some 40 years ago by Stumpy Johnson.
In tribute to his late friend and mentor, Jimmy Hicks pinned the Bronze Star he earned while in the Army on Stumpy’s chest….calling him the real hero of his life.
In turn, the Johnson family presented Hicks with the American Flag which covered Stumpy’s casket.
Love of family runs deep, but so does the respect of a true friend, no matter their age, no matter their race or social status.
Rest in peace, Stumpy Johnson…you were a hero to all!
Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7207.