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John Johnson: Community Hero

A Tribute

John Johnson in PragueOn the afternoon of Saturday the 19th of July PC John Johnson died.
At a stroke Battersea lost a key community activist; the Battersea Society lost a key trustee, friend and adviser; and many individual Battersea people lost a good friend and companion.

Constable John Johnson was undoubtedly the most well known person of Battersea. As a community policeman he has ridden his trusty cycle around the streets of Battersea for decades. People would stop him in the streets to chat. His sturdy figure would spread a cheerful sense of reassurance as he pedalled in his travels.

Uniquely John had won the Metropolitan Police Community Constable of the Year in the two separate years of 1994 and 2001. The party to celebrate the second such award was attended by so many well wishers that late arrivals had to stand in the hallway of All Saints’ Church to hear the speeches. His 50th birthday party needed the space and setting of the Reform Club to do justice to the event, to him and his multitude of friends and colleagues.

John belonged to a multitude of Battersea organisations. John infiltrated the Rotary Club of Battersea Park many years ago and has been a central figure in their social events. He helped organise the annual Policeman’s Ball (never ‘Secret’ under John!), the pensioners' Xmas dinner in the Park, and was a constant support of St Mary’s Church as a church warden. For many years he was a trustee of the Friends of Battersea Park and played a key role in their activities. He also worked tirelessly in work-related bodies, such as the Battersea Crime Prevention Panel.

He has been a trustee and member of the executive committee of the Battersea Society since its re-formation in 1998 and has played a key role here too, not just in organising social event 'nibbles' with the sure aid of his supporting 'helping elves', but as a touchstone for others as to what is right and good.

John had made a deliberate choice to be a community policeman. He was educated at a public school and attended Brasenose College, Oxford. He could readily have progressed through promotions in the hierarchy of the police force. He chose instead to follow his vocation in community work and remain a constable. This did not prevent him following his artistic interests and his home was full of fine paintings and artefacts. He possessed a breadth and depth of cultural awareness that occasionally surprised those around him – like the local resident on whom John had called to advise about security who was astonished when the uniformed constable admired and identified some John Piper paintings.

A complex and cultured man nonetheless at one level John was a simple man who knew instinctively what was right and what was wrong. As a keen cyclist, for example, he was not averse to shouting out at errant cyclists, "Hey, you, why do you think the Highway Code doesn’t apply to you?" at the top of his voice when confronted with an antisocial cyclist.

The parameters of his life were bounded by a sense of service to others and the community. As a police constable he acted this out daily. As a member of the management committees of some dozen and a half local organisations he gave his time and energies without stint.

His sudden wholly unexpected death leaves a gaping wound in many of us in Battersea – and doubtless elsewhere.

John on his trusty bikeOstensibly John walked straight out of the pages of a novel by Charles Dickens – probably Pickwick Papers. He seemed always to be a Mr Cheeryble. Always cheerful, always beaming with happiness, always doing good works in good ways. Never having a bad or sour word to say about anyone.

But, as is often the case with those radiating affability in social settings of company, John was a profoundly private man. He never wore his heart on his sleeve and rarely confided his innermost thoughts to those around him.

What is vital is to remember John for his life and not his death.

His life was a multitude of affirmations and joyfulness with other people. His glass always was half full, not half empty. So, to accompany this tribute, there is not only a photo of the familiar John on his trusty bike that accompanied a pen picture in the Spring 2005 Newsletter (above), but also (top right) a photo taken earlier this month of John in a beer cellar in a pub in Budejovice, Prague where he was enjoying life amongst friends.

John was a rare and special man who made those around him feel special and valued. His life is his monument.

Tony Tuck: Chair Battersea Society
   29th July 2008

By clicking below you may listen to the recent Radio 4 obituary for John Johnson

Date posted: 31 July 2008