Remembering Lee Johnson
A Wonderful Friend is Lost
I knew intimately many administrators during the years I
worked in schools and as a salesman calling on them. I had many that I thought
of as being very close and warm friends.
Among all of these men I was associated with, one stands out very tall. He was
Lee Johnson, who was superintendent of schools in Phillips, a suburb of Borger.
It was a small district, areawise, but one of the wealthiest in the entire
territory I worked. Phillips Petroleum Company was by far the largest taxpayer.
Most of the patrons of this school were either officers or employees of this
Lee Johnson was a very handsome person. He was, I think, one of the most
intelligent men I have ever known. He had been a very successful administrator
of Wink Schools, a very rich oil field in the Permian Basin.
He must have had a blank check from his school board to do the things he wanted
to do when he came to Phillips, for he exercised complete freedom in the
administration of the school.
He was one of the most genteel and considerate men I have ever met. He must have
sensed how intensely I wanted to break into the sales field, for he, more than
any other, encouraged me to follow my wishes and enter into it.
Lee Johnson was extremely proud of his school. He never failed to take me over
the campus and buildings and show me various new innovations. Regardless of what
phase of the operation, he always had an excellent and well-qualified person in
charge. His football and basketball teams were usually winners, and the school
was outstanding in literary achievements.
He was a keen judge of people and, having adequate funds to insure a high salary
schedule, he could employ the very best personnel. He had few resignations, but
any vacancy that did occur could be filled from a wide choice of applicants.
One of my first visits to Phillips came in the summer of 1948, before I took the
territory for Southern Engraving Company. I went in about ten o’clock in the
morning. He insisted on going for coffee at a nearby café. He spent considerable
time there with other staff members and it was a very pleasant experience for
Later, we moved over the campus and visited the shop, the tennis courts,
covering the entire operation. He glowed with pride in his praise of those who
had contributed to the fine program.
Finally, we came to his office. He invited me in and took a seat behind his
desk. He started out the conversation with a question:
“Mac, just what did you want to sell me?”
I hurriedly drew my catalog from my brief case and handed it to him saying,
“Just anything I have to offer.”
He started at the beginning and thumbed through it. First, he found a teacher’s
desk that appealed to him. He ordered three of them. Next, he ordered a number
of filing cabinets. He told me to write up the orders as he directed, giving
careful consideration to size, color, but never mentioning price.
This went on until I had written the finest order I had ever had. After I had
checked it, he signed it and I gave him his copy of it.
I thanked him warmly and left his office to go to my car, which was parked
across the street from the entrance of the building. I was literally walking in
the clouds I was so pleased with the order.
My car was a new one, and I was very proud of it. Without looking backwards, I
pulled out into the street. An old Ford car crashed into my front fender,
damaging it badly.
The driver got out and angrily accused me of being at fault. I knew he was
right; his car had not been damaged. I looked toward the front door of the high
school building and saw Lee Johnson had seen the accident. I walked over to
where he was. He said, “Mac, you were to blame.”
I agreed with him without question.
I did not call on him again until I left school work. He always managed to find
something he needed each time I visited with him. I even suspected that he
bought materials that he really did not need just to help me, even though I knew
that he was a careful buyer and demanded the very best quality in his purchases.
The last time I visited with him came in February, 1957. A very fine friend, R.
W. Standefer, superintendent of schools at Stratford, and I, had spent three
wonderful days in New York on our way to Atlantic City. We had flown there, but
at the last moment decided to ride the train the last lap to the site of the
When we entered the special car that had come from Texas, we were greeted by Lee
Johnson and Joe Gibson, who were seated near the front of the car. Joe was
superintendent of Canyon Schools. They had been classmates in college and were
very close friends. Lee greeted us with the comment,
“You buttons have been here in New York whooping it up. Well, playtime is over.
You are going to settle down to the business at hand and attend a convention.”
He indicated the seat opposite them, which we took.
We remained there during the entire trip down the coast of New Jersey. Since we
did not have reservations, we were very glad to find that they had a suite and
that we were invited to join them in it.
This turned out to be a very nice one, in a new motel that had been constructed
to accommodate the growing needs of the city.
We went to a seafood restaurant and had an excellent and delicious meal. The
four of us attended the first general session of the convention in the
auditorium, which turned out to be an unusually fine program.
We continued with Lee and Joe throughout the convention. When we left for
Washington, we went by train as a group. We registered at the Congressional
The next morning we attended the congressional breakfast provided for school men
from the North and South Plains as guests of Walter Rogers and George Mahon,
representatives from that area.
During the morning, I spent a long time with Lee in the restaurant of the hotel;
just the two of us. I never saw him again, for a few weeks later, he died
suddenly and unexpectedly with a heart attack while he was attending a music
festival in Enid, Oklahoma.
I did have a long telephone conversation with him, for when he heard of Mr.
Rogers joining me, he called to congratulate me. He even suggested that he had
thought seriously of offering to join my company.
I must say that I thought then, and I do now, that he was the finest school
administrator I ever knew.
Chapter 27 from When the Bell Sounded
1972 by F. M. McCarty
Johnson and the 1928 Wink, Texas football team
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