By Pierce Panagakos
On Oct. 24, College Park residents gathered in the Berwyn neighborhood to remember the life of Tom Johnson, a resident and dedicated member of the community who passed away in July 2020.
Johnson was very active in the AA community, was an advocate for social justice and was PTA president at his children’s school, Hollywood Elementary. He was also the field director for McKayla Wilkes’ state congressional campaign.
Wilkes’ campaign team organized the event to honor Johnson on the day before what would have been his 36th birthday.
Dash Yeatts-Lonske, Wilkes’ campaign manager, spoke about his hopes for the event. “Our hopes are really just to remember Tom. It was really tough when he passed, in July of 2020 … we couldn’t do anything in person … So we’re really here because we want to celebrate him and celebrate what he meant to us, celebrate what he meant to our community … and we thought today would be a great day to do it, because tomorrow is his birthday.”
Yeatts-Lonske also spoke about his memories of Johnson: “For me the first thing that comes to mind is his energy. Tom was 100% go at all times, high energy, very good, friendly energy. He could really bring you in, even if he had just met you.”
Tom’s parents, Cathy and Edward Johnson, talked about what they hoped people would take away from the event. “We really appreciate all the love that Tom’s friends have expressed for him in all of the places they interacted with him … there’s a huge range, from PTA to Alcoholics Anonymous, to social justice, racial justice and McKayla’s campaign … We hope that they’ll continue to make the world a better place,” Cathy Johnson said.
Edward Johnson remembered Tom’s drive to care and help others. “I think some of it came from the church we were members of,” he said. Cathy Johnson added that their church upholds “the worth and dignity of every human being,” and that their son’s life reflected this belief.
Mayor Patrick Wojahn spoke about Johnson’s impact in the community, “Tom really lived a life of service, and he really felt passionately about the things he got involved with, the variety of things he was involved with. I hope people … are inspired by [his life of service] and are moved to get involved in the community, to work to make a difference.”
Wojahn also spoke about the city’s naming Oct. 25th, Tom’s birthday, as Tom Johnson Day. “I think it’s a big deal. We don’t call days for a lot of people; it’s not something we do very often, so I hope people will remember him.”
During the event, people who knew Johnson shared fond memories of him. Members of McKayla Wilkes’ campaign, the Hollywood Elementary PTA and an anonymous recovery community all spoke about the impact that Tom had in their lives.