Centreville man says Bush inspired him
CENTREVILLE — Eric Johnson Jr. of Centreville met George H.W. Bush as a graduating senior Washington College in 1999. The former president made a lasting impression, he said.
Johnson, now 42, grew up in Centreville, moving to the Eastern Shore when he was 12, with his parents and six siblings. He graduated from Queen Anne’s County High School, Class of 1994, along with his high school sweetheart, Jamie, who would soon become his wife. Today, they have three children of their own.
Johnson was active in high school, joining dif ferent school clubs, but more significantly, he became the student chairman of
then Governor William Donald Schaffer’s Youth Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission. It was there Johnson got a taste of leadership. From there, he went on the Washington College, studying psychology and sociology, and he got into student government. He served as student government president his last two years.
Before commencement, Johnson had lunch with former President George H.W. Bush and his wife Barbara, who were guest speakers at the ceremony. They had quite a conversation, taking a sincere interest in Eric’s plans for the future.
During commencement, Johnson addressed his fellow graduates, telling them to “take ownership for your own life” and not blame others for any failures. He message caught the attention of the Bushes.
After graduation, correspondence between George Bush and Johnson continued. Bush recommended Johnson attend Texas A & M University’s then new George Bush School of Government and Public Service, which he did, earning dual master’s degrees in administration and public service.
While at Texas A & M, Johnson was one of the founding editors of the Bush School’s first student publication, The Public Servant. The publication was dedicated to George H.W. Bush’s signature legacy of “A Thousand Points of Light” through volunteerism and public service.
Johnson received answers to several questions he asked the former president to expound on about public service.
Here’s part of what Bush wrote back: “The idea that service is not only rewarding but essential to the well being of our nation .... My role will be to be an ... advocate for public service, which I feel is a noble calling.”
Before he left Texas A & M, Johnson and Bush met again, and they continued to correspond over the years.
Johnson moved back to Maryland where he was hired as director of the then newly formed Chesapeake Fields Institute, a nonprofit organization aimed at making agriculture more profitable for farmers in the Mid-atlantic region.
Shortly after that, 9-11 took place, and Johnson felt a patriotic urge to serve his nation against terrorism. He joined the U.S. Air Force, being commissioned a 1st Lieutenant on Dec. 13, 2002. He first served as chief of managed care at Malcolm Grow Medical Center at Andrews Air Force Base. He served at various other locations in his 10 years of active duty, including being stationed in Afghanistan.
Johnson received a brief letter from the former president in December 2005, after he learned Johnson had joined the Air Force. Bush wrote, “I am very proud that you decided to join the military and I salute you for your honorable service to country.” Johnson has saved that letter.
He left the Air Force with the rank of major in 2011. He went on to serve as a hospital administrator in Pennsylvania. The urge to “return home” to Queen Anne’s County came this past summer, and Johnson accepted the position of Queen Anne’s County Emergency Services planner.
One of Johnson’s final letters to Bush clearly expressed his sentiments toward the former president’s encouragement in his life, writing, “You have personally touched my life in such a profound way ... I want you to know that your investment of just a few choice meetings and several supportive letters have continued to reap many rewarding experiences for a devout public servant! Our correspondence over the years have been more than rewarding.”
Speaking before Bush’s funeral, Johnson said, “Absolutely, former President Bush had an impact on me, personally and professionally. He taught by example that public service is not a job, but a mind set. I believe that where ever you live, you can’t just live and sleep there. You need to find ways to give back to your community.”
George H.W. Bush was a very young WWII fighter pilot who flew 56 missions, being shot down by the Japanese once, where both of his crew members died. Bush always questioned why God had spared him.
He went on the graduate from Yale, marry Barbara, have a family, serve as a Congressman from Texas, become U.S. Ambassador to China, become C.I.A. director, ser ve as vice president for two terms with President Ronald Reagan, and become the 41st President of the United States.
He was described this past week “as one of the last of the greatest generation.”
He touched many lives, including those of the Johnson family in Centreville.
Eric Johnson of Centreville, right, shakes hands with former President George H.W. Bush, who spoke at his graduation from Washington College in 1999. The two corresponded over the years, and Johnson said Bush had a big impact on his life.
Eric Johnson, left, with President George H.W. Bush at Texas A&M in 2001, while Johnson was earning his master’s degree.
Eric Johnson holds a picture of former President George H.W. Bush taken of the two while Johnson was attending Texas A&M University. He first met Bush while Johnson was student body president at Washington College in Chestertown.