Gilbert Lee Johnson of Barnabus/Omar, WV departed this world on June 3, 2022. He was born on May 24, 1915, in Wytheville, Virginia. He celebrated his (107th) last birthday on Tuesday, May 24 with his niece Latrice Johnson of Brooklyn, NY; Director Nimo of VAMC and two staff members; several nurses from Kindred at Home and his home health aid from All About Care, Sherri Baxter. He celebrated the week with cake and ice cream each night. He also received many cards and well wishes from family and friends.
He often told his children that he has been working since he was two years old. The old ladies had him washing the canning jars because his little hands could fit inside the jars. After losing his mother at a young age, he came to West Virginia with his sister Margaret and her husband John D. Monroe. John worked in the coal mines in the town of Nolan, WV. They stayed there for a while before moving to Borderland #2 just across the Tug River in Kentucky. Coal mining brought the family to Logan County, WV where he stayed until his death.
His Aunt Ester Monroe Ingram (a schoolteacher in Mingo County, WV) taught him how to read using a magazine when he was around the age of twelve or thirteen. He received a formal education at Aracoma High School, given credit for the Class of 1934. He Was a member of the Aracoma Alumni Association in Logan County, WV. He took correspondence courses to teach himself how to repair radios, TV’s, refrigerators, and freezers. He had a little repair shop in the back room of the house at Stirrat’s 14-Hill. He also had carpentry, electrical, plumbing and mechanic skills. He was the only household that had an in-ground pool on 14-Hill because he built it with the help of friends and family members for the neighborhood to enjoy.
His family was the last family to leave 14-Hill. He moved his family to house #950 in #9 Camp in the late 60’s. He built an attached bathroom to the house and built a cesspool according to the specifications of the day.
He served time in the Army during WWII as a member of the segregated 304 Quarter Master Railhead Corps. His official title was Clerk-Typist at the rank of PFC (Private First Class). He earned many medals and badges while serving; Good Conduct Medal, American Theater Service Ribbon, Asiatic Pacific Service Ribbon, European African Middle Eastern Service Ribbon, World War II Victory Ribbon. He served in Rome and Arno, Italy, Oran, and Manila. He was an expert bayonet and sharpshooter rifle. He came home on leave to marry Jessie Frances Layne and after the war returned home to his wife and child in Stirrat, WV. He went back to working in the mines.
While employed in the coal mines, he worked with the union to build the United Mine Workers of America at the local level. He worked as the Secretary since he could read, write and use a typewriter. He and Roy Mead helped many miners sign up for the union. He and Richard Johnson (not related) worked as safety inspectors at some of the early mines. He is a member of Local Union #5958, District 17. He spent 70 years working in various coal mines in Logan County and as a member of the union. He was affectionately known as “Dead Ready” at Hatcher mines in Switzer.
His faith was strong, and it kept him strong through many trials as well as bright days over the years. While sharing the building with Mt. Olive Baptist Church, he held the title of Superintendent of Sunday School as a member of Gardner’s Chapel AME (African Methodist Episcopal) Church at Stirrat. He and his wife (Jessie Frances) made sure that their children received a good foundation in the church; they attended the Baptist service as well as the AME service. After Gardner’s Chapel closed, he and other members of the community acquired Shaffer Chapel AME of Omar which is now closed due to low membership.
Many of us remember him as “The Picture Man” because it was his greatest hobby and joy to take movies or pictures of every event in the community. He enjoyed traveling to the Johnson/Monroe/Berry Family Reunions, Aracoma Reunions, special church programs, (pastor’s anniversary, Founder’s Day, singing conventions, annual conference, Sunday school conventions, etc.) high school and college graduations, weddings and anniversaries, “tough man contests”, Little League baseball games, and anything else happening in the community. He would take time to check in on people in the hospitals and nursing homes and at their homes to see how they were doing. Even in his later years, he enjoyed seeing new places and sampling the food; receiving a visitor every now and then; talking on the phone to out of town relatives and sitting on the porch in the warm weather watching the cars go by. He lived a full life and helped many people along his journey.
He was also Past Master of Eastgate Lodge #33 for many years. He joined the organization with the endorsement of Will Marsh when he was 18 years old and stayed active until his 80’s. At his 100-birthday party his Mason brothers presented him with a plaque acknowledging his service over the years.
He was preceded in death by his mother, Pauline Peoples Johnson; father, John Granville Wesley Johnson; wife, Jessie Frances Layne Johnson; children, (newborn) Linda Johnson, Harold Johnson, Claudia M. Johnson, Charles D. Johnson, Gilbert B. “Deak” Johnson, and Sheila N. Bradsher; his brothers, Henry “Buster” Johnson, Richard Johnson, James Johnson, and John “Pete” Johnson; sisters, Mildred Johnson Peoples, and Lillie Mae Johnson Rakes; Margaret Johnson Monroe. He was the last of his siblings to go on to glory. The last of his generation. He also saw many friends and acquaintances pass on before him over the years. That’s what happens when you have been blessed with a long full life.
He leaves his daughter and caregiver; Andrea D. Campbell of Barnabus/Omar, WV. 10 Grandchildren; Candice Brown, Stephanie L. Johnson, Rashi S. (Mary) Rose, Henry P. (Trina) Jones, Angela P. Campbell, Jessica M. (Ronald) Campbell-Prince, Cheryl (Lajuan) Hampton, Chester L. (Jaime) Bradsher, II, Ise N. (Jeffrey) Oliver, Anasa S. Johnson; 19 Great-Grandchildren; 3 Great-Great-Grandchildren. Many Nephews; Great-Nephews; and Great-Great Nephews; many Nieces; Great-Nieces; and Great-Great Nieces; and all those not yet born. He is leaving a legacy of love and service to generations of family and friends.
The family he leaves behind will remember him as “Poppy”, “Pops”, “Papaw”, “Gramps” or simply “Uncle Gilbert”.
A funeral service will be held at 12:00 pm, Saturday, June 11th, 2022, at Collins Funeral Home Chapel. Burial will follow in Guyan Memorial Gardens in Godby, WV with full military rites.
Visitation will begin at 10:30 am also on Saturday, June 11th, 2022.
Arrangements have been entrusted to Collins Funeral Home Inc. of Switzer, WV.