Reverend Venerable Doctor Richard “Dick” Edwin Johnson (1935-2017)
The Reverend Venerable Doctor Richard “Dick” Edwin Johnson, Sr. died January 25, 2017 with his loving family holding him in love, simplicity and grace at his home in Hampden, Maine. The cause of death was metastatic cancer and heart disease. He was 81.
Dick Johnson was born in Mount Pleasant, Texas, Nov. 8, 1935 to Martha Francis Rubottom Johnson and Ernest Clayton Johnson, Sr. Growing up near Dublin, Texas, on a dairy farm, Dick did the work of a man as a young boy, because his daddy was ill. Despite rising early each morning, milking the cows twice a day and often working so late into the evening that darkness forced him to plow the fields with the tractor’s headlights on, Dick remained active in school sports, debate club, drama, and other organizations. He loved singing and sang every country song he heard on the radio while on the tractor plowing. All his life he had an incredible memory for lyrics. He attended Texas A&M, and in his freshman year, decided he wanted to “become a preacher.”
He graduated from Sam Houston State College, then earned his Master of Divinity at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, and the Methodist Church ordained him as a minister in 1961. He earned another master’s degree in American literature from the University of Texas in 1965.
After working as a chaplain for the Methodist Student Union at Texas Women’s University, he entered the Chaplaincy Training Program at Austin State Hospital where he developed a lifelong interest in treating the mentally ill and the aging. His degrees and counseling experience led him to a job at Ricker College in Houlton, Maine, where his love of Maine began, and where he felt deeply that he’d “come home.” His love for the rugged northeast extended to the islands of Tancook and Flat Islands in Chester Bay off of the coast of Nova Scotia, where he spent time for more than 40 years and where he made life long friends.
In 1978, the Episcopal Church of Maine ordained him as a priest. He continued postgraduate studies through the Wright Institute in Berkeley, California and earned his Ph.D. in Psychology and Education in 1979 while also running a private pastoral counseling practice in Gardiner, Maine. Then he returned to Texas and served St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Lampasas, Texas from 1981 To 1987. Dick studied Buddhism, and for a time he studied meditation with Suzuki Roshi at the San Francisco Zen Center. In the early ‘90s he returned to Texas to teach counseling psychology at the University of Texas at Laredo. He returned to Maine in 1995 and taught counseling at the University of Maine at Fort Kent and served as associate priest in the Aroostook Episcopal Cluster until his retirement in 2000.
In his retirement, he taught psychology courses at Husson College and served many Maine Episcopal churches as interim and associate priest including, most recently, as priest in charge of St. James Episcopal Church in Old Town. Early Celtic Christianity as well as Buddhism always fascinated him and he saw strong parallels.
Through his research, he encountered the Crazy Horse Celtic Buddhist lineage, and Ven. Seoniadh Perks. made Dr. Johnson venerable placeholder in 2011. Parishioners knew Dick Johnson to weave Celtic Christian theology and Buddhist practice into his sermons, and he taught Zen meditation classes, most recently at the Wilson Center at the University of Maine at Orono. His greatest concern was to see the feminine returned to the church and our culture, and he expressed this in sermons with poetry, thought and imagination. Each week his parishioners heard a benediction quoting a poem by Julian of Norwich, a 14th c. mystic: “Just as God is our father, so also is he our mother…” that ends “All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
He was married to Sharon Mosely Johnson for thirty years, was briefly married to Marta Nichols Johnson and has been married to Christine Talbott for the past sixteen years. He and Christine resided in Castine and most recently Hampden, Maine. Although he lived in Maine most of his adult life, Dick never lost his Texas accent nor his Texas charm.
Many loved him for his wit, his brilliant mind, his love of poetry and literature and he was “just an ol’ country boy” to the end. He was predeceased by his parents and two sisters: Jinx Johnson who died in infancy, and Beth Dee Johnson Hallmark.
He will be sorely missed by his wife, Christine Talbott; his surviving siblings, Ernest C. Johnson Jr. (Celia) of Midland, TX; Joy Johnson Hall (Charles) of Bellaire, TX; Jack E. Johnson (Kathy) of New Orleans, LA; and Odie Tim Johnson (Frieda) of Dublin TX; four children: Richard E. Johnson Jr. of Austin, TX; Sofia Johnson Birden (Andrew) of Fort Kent, ME; Arlen D. Johnson (Kyla) of Averill Park, NY; and Alethea Johnson Saccoccia (Anthony) of Providence, RI; two step sons, Cooper Holmes (Amy) of Bristol, Conn. and Seth Holmes (Julie Chen) of West Hartford, Conn.; seven grandchildren, one step grandson; and several nieces and nephews.
A service celebrating Dick’s life will be at St. James Episcopal Church, Old Town, Maine on June 24, 2017 at 1 p.m.
Memorials can be made to New Hope Hospice and the San Francisco Zen Center.