Cen­tre­ville man says Bush in­spired him

Record Observer - - FRONT PAGE - By DOUG BISHOP [email protected]­times.com

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.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

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.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

Eric John­son, left, with Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush at Texas A&M in 2001, while John­son was earn­ing his mas­ter’s de­gree.

PHOTO BY DOUG BISHOP

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.

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