John R. Johnson, Navy Yard victim, spurned retirement because he loved his job and coworkers

4:46 PM, Sep 17, 2013   |    comments
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John R. Johnson

DERWOOD, Md. (WUSA)  -- John R. Johnson may have been 73-years old, but he got up at 3:45 a.m. every day to work at Washington's Navy Yard because he loved work and people.

He simply did not want to retire, his family said.  He was the oldest victim of Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis.

"He never met a stranger," said his wife Judy Johnson outside the couple's home in Derwood, Md. Tuesday.  "My husband was a wonderful, wonderful man.  He was always happy.  Always positive."

His family doesn't know if Johnson was acquainted with Alexis.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't stand up and try to talk the guy out of it, I'm serious," Judy said.

"He would have hugged him," said daughter Erin.

Johnson, known as "J.J." to his friends, was a career logistics analyst working for a contractor serving the Navy, his family said.  He liked to work early and park more than a mile from the Navy Yard to get in a brisk walk each day.  "Plus he liked parking for free," laughed his eldest daughter Erin Zagami.

Johnson, a widower, has four adult daughters and nine grandchildren.  He remarried 8 and a half years ago.

"Every morning he said 'goodbye beautiful. I love you so much.  You have a good day and God bless you," said wife Judy.   She said she talked with J.J. at about 7:30 a.m. before the shooting broke out and after he had arrived at work.

Johnson's daughters were among the families who gathered at Nationals Park to meet survivors being brought out of the Navy Yard after the shootings.  When J.J. didn't get off the last bus, the family was pulled aside by officials.

"I'm  still in shock," said Judy through tears.

Johnson had lived in the same home in Derwood for 42 years.   "How does somebody that nice be in the wrong place at the wrong time," said neighbor Robert Durst.

Johnson was a native of Minnesota who served in the National Guard, and worked for Boeing in Tacoma, Washington early in his career.  He moved to the Washington area to begin work for the Navy and stayed.  He loved surf fishing in North Carolina and ice hockey.  He was a huge fan of the Capitals and the Redskins, his family said.

But mostly they said, he was an extremely devoted grandparent, parent and husband.

Johnson had a "very strong faith" his family said.  He was a member of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Gaithersburg, where he will be memorialized.

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