- Lasting Memories - Willard Edward Johnson's memorial

Willard Edward Johnson
Dec. 5, 1938-March 6, 2024
Pleasanton, California

A longtime resident of Pleasanton, California, Willard Edward Johnson died on March 6, 2024, at 85 years of age.

Born in Blackwell, Oklahoma, on December 5, 1938, he was the first child of H. Willard and Dorothea Johnson. Their family of six moved frequently. At one home near Oklahoma City’s Tinker Air Force Base, he watched World War II aircraft pass overhead daily. Young Will became enamored of aeronautics and decided to become a pilot.

His father was a talented music instructor, performer, and band director; under his tutelage, Willard showed early promise as a cornetist, leading high school groups to two State championships while in 7th grade. But while music was always part of his life, air flight ultimately captured his imagination.

At Will Rogers High School he fostered a friendship with Jack Hamilton that would last a lifetime. The boys bonded over their shared enthusiasm for model airplanes. Early members of the Tulsa Glue Dobbers, today believed to be the oldest radio-controlled flying club in the US, they built and flew their models on the vast plains of Tulsa. Willard was a proud graduate of WRHS Class of 1956 and a member of the Civil Air Patrol.

He worked as a draftsman to finance his education at the University of Texas at Austin and was in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC). Graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering, he set his sights on the US Air Force. He flew the F-102, the first supersonic interceptor, and was assigned to Ramstein Air Base in West Germany, an exciting opportunity for a young man who’d never been out of Oklahoma and Texas!

While stationed in southwestern Germany, Will met and married Janice Jerabek of Wisconsin, with whom they had one daughter. Near the end of his six years with the USAF, Captain Johnson was sent to the Mekong Delta to fight in the Vietnam War. He logged over a thousand hours flying as a forward air controller. For the rest of his life, Willard regaled family and friends with stories from his military service. He was a proud veteran.

In 1969 Will returned to the US, joining Janice and their baby in the San Francisco Bay Area. He had a brilliant scientific mind with varied interests. Besides aviation, he was passionate about astronomy and enjoyed late nights in the backyard with his telescopes. Will was an excellent photographer and developed his own black & white photographs in a home darkroom. Already a user of mainframe computers, he immediately appreciated the benefits of personal computing and built his own PCs in the early days of this scientific revolution. And he shared his knowledge of these hobbies with others as a teacher of Adult Education. After graduating from Cal State Hayward (now Cal State East Bay) with a Master of Science in Physics, he spent 17 years working as a physicist in the university laboratory.

In retirement Will was an avid reader of military history and enjoyed researching family genealogy, especially lines through Norway and England. He shared insights with his siblings who were also keen genealogists and reveled in visiting the northern European areas where his ancestors had lived. He delighted in domestic and international travel, having experienced 35 countries. England and Yosemite National Park were favorite places; he also shared a vacation home in a vibrant French village. Equally enthusiastic about a symphony performance, opera, musical, or band concert… he welcomed diverse musical events.

He is survived by his daughter, Lisa J Ennis; son-in-law, Chris Ennis; former wife, Janice Jerabek; sisters, Althea Statum and Dorothea “Dottye” Prater; sister-in-law, Kathy Johnson; nephews, Jeff Statum, Michael Johnson, Andy Prater; niece, Tiffany Prater. He was preceded in passing by his “aunt,” Emma Lauderdale; parents, Dorothea and H. Willard Johnson; brother, Millard “Ed” Johnson; brothers-in-law, Harold “Red” Statum and Ron Prater; niece, Debi Jo Dirion; best friend, Jack Hamilton.

After a nomadic childhood, Willard was proud to live, for 55 years, in the Tri-Valley communities of Dublin and Pleasanton. The family will scatter his ashes in places around the world that were important to him.

Tags: veteran, teacher/educator

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Please consider a donation in Will’s memory to the Pleasanton Community Concert Band or musical group of your choice: www.pleasantonband.org.

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