Brundidge mourns death of local historian

Published 3:00 am Tuesday, August 30, 2016

John Philip Johnston, Brundidge historian, will be greatly missed by the people of Brundidge. Johnston provided people a glimpse into their community history that they never would have known otherwise.

John Philip Johnston, Brundidge historian, will be greatly missed by the people of Brundidge. Johnston provided people a glimpse into their community history that they never would have known otherwise.

The City of Brundidge has lost its most important person.

John Philip Johnston knew more about Brundidge, its people and its place in time than anyone has probably ever known or will ever know.

Johnston acquired a historical treasure chest that he laid open to generations of people in search of their own ancestors and the roles they played in history, no matter how large or small.

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Johnston’s death on August 26, left a void that can not be filled. But the historical and genealogical information that he shared over the years will continue to enrich lives for generations to come, said Brundidge Mayor Jimmy Ramage.

Ramage and Johnston grew up together in Brundidge and Ramage said the loss of Johnston is immeasurable.

“He gave us a glimpse of our community that we would not have known otherwise,” Ramage said.  “There’s no one who can ever fill his shoes. He had more knowledge of, not just Brundidge but this entire part of Pike County, than anyone, past or present. John Philip didn’t just know the history, he lived it.”

Even as a young boy, Johnston hung around with the older generation Ramage said.

“He just enjoyed being around the older people in our community. We didn’t think there was anything strange about that. It was just John Philip. He was smart and we respected him. We liked to hear him tell stories about our ancestors. He was a great storyteller and we learned about our community and its people from him.”

Ramage said Johnston was the official historian of the Brundidge community for decades but he shared his knowledge with people all across the country.

“People at the state archives in Montgomery would recommend him. No one knew more about ‘us’ than John Philip. We’re going to be lost without him because he knew all the players in our history — who they were and how they survived. He took us to the dance and we’re going to miss the ol’ boy.”

Johnston and Karen Bullard, Troy Public Library genealogist, shared a common interest and had great respect and admiration for each other.

“John Philip was an amazing individual,” Bullard said. “I met him when I started researching my genealogy in the 1980s. I was in awe of his knowledge of genealogy and local history.  I came to admire his dedication to finding and preserving our cemeteries and compiling records and information on Pike County pioneers and their genealogies.”

Bullard said while looking through courthouse records one day early on in her personal research, she came across Johnston, who was also researching.

“I got the courage to ask him how to find information on one of my ancestors.  He did not say a word, just turned around and pulled out a bound copy of age-old news.  He quickly flipped through the pages, turned it around, handed it to me and pointed to an article on my great-great grandmother.  From that time on he was my genealogy ‘hero’”.

Several years back, Bullard introduced her brother James to Johnston and they soon became good friends.  Both were educators and both shared a love for history and family.  “They spent many hours riding back roads, working in cemeteries and marking many graves.  They were both good storytellers and lucky I was when they let me tag along on their little junkets.  John Philip and his wife, Diane, became much-loved family friends. John Philip will be sorely missed.

Sara Bowden, chair of the Tupper Lightfoot Memorial Library in Brundidge, said Johnson was as asset to the Brundidge Library.

“People were always coming to the library looking for information about their kinfolks and ancestors,” Bowden said. “Jean Carroll, librarian, would always call John Philip and he would come down and talk to them. He shared so much with so many. He was greatly respected and admired for his love of community and his dedication to it. He will be greatly missed by the library board – by all who knew him.”

Freddie Turner attended Tennille United Methodist Church with Johnston. He fondly remembers the early days of his attendance when the church service would be five or six people sitting around a table.

“My wife, Lois, and I had been looking for a church for a long time,” Turner said. “We found what we were looking for at Tennille Church and with those few people that had held the church together. John Philip and Diane were among them. John Philip became like a brother to me.

“We had served in the National Guard together and I already had the greatest respect for him. He was a dedicated patriot and he had so much respect for our country’s history. He was dedicated to the Lord and did His work through service to the church.

John Philip was an inspiration to me in his commitment to cleaning cemeteries and making sure that those buried there were remember. He was a walking historian but, more than that, he was a patriot and a great Christian. Everybody who knew him was blessed and will remember him as the great person he was.”