Steven Wendell Johnson passed away peacefully on August 10, 2018 surrounded by family. Steve was born on November 30, 1954 in Charlottesville, Virginia, but his early childhood was spent in Gordonsville. Steve’s loving parents were Eula “Janie” Utz Johnson (who passed away on September 28, 2006), and Milton L. Johnson (who passed away on December 7, 2012).
Gordonsville is a small town in the historic Piedmont, minutes from Charlottesville and surrounded by our country’s greatest historic sites and battlefields. Steve spoke often of the colorful history of his home town which hosted George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, James Madison, Zachary Taylor and Thomas Jefferson. Gordonsville was also was at the cross roads of the Civil War struggle in Virginia and Steve had a keen interest in his family’s role in the war.
Eula was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star and Milton was a Mason. Steve’s upbringing in the shadow of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and the University of Virginia, and his parents’ love of books and learning fueled Steve’s insatiable thirst for knowledge, and his love of history and art. Eula and Milton moved Steve and his sister April to Orlando in 1962. Their Virginia accents could still be heard on words like “house” (how-use). Steve attended Conway Elementary School and there, like everywhere he went, Steve made new friendships lasting over fifty years, some of whom were at his bedside in his final moments. Steve was raised a member of Christ the King Episcopal Church.
Steve’s public school teachers were inspiring. Steve was placed in what were called “accelerated classes” where the students were pushed to learn- reading Edgar Allen Poe in the 4th grade, recording an album with the glee club, performing plays, and listening to classical music. Steve’s artistic gifts were obvious. Steve had an ear for music and a gift for singing and composing. This gift cannot be taught. He never had any formal musical training- it just came naturally. His lyrics poured forth effortlessly like from a spring, often spontaneously in front of crowds who watched in awe.
The Johnson home was a favorite social gathering place for Steve’s friends through college. Eula was movie star beautiful and she and Milt were favorite parents. The house was always full of fun and laughter. The Conway neighborhood is one of the first areas settled by English immigrants in the 1800’s. In the early 1960’s, it was still rural- farms, orange groves, pristine lakes, woods, and dairy pastures. Steve and his friends felt like they were in the country.
Steve attended Conway Elementary School, Howard Middle School and Conway Middle School. Steve graduated from Boone High School in 1973 where he was extremely popular-a class officer, member of Interact and the drama club. Steve stayed active in the Boone reunions and was in the process of planning the 45th reunion for which he designed the flyer.
Steve enrolled at the University of Florida where he became a beloved brother in the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity which was founded at the Virginia Military Institute. Steve was the great light of the house, composing and performing songs and serving as an officer. His room was a sanctuary of art, classical music and great conversation- like one of the great enlightenment drawing rooms for which Steve was the Samuel Johnson. Steve painted the ATO chapter house windows in a faux stained glass- a project that took months and for which, like Michelangelo, he was assigned an army of what he called his “apprentices”( actually they were pledges). Brothers would yell up to the third story, “Steve, when will it be finished?!” And he would yell back “when it is done!”. Steve lived in the house for two years and returned years later for the initiations of sons of his friends. Some brothers said Steve was like Bluto in Animal House, but Steve was less John Belushi and more like Shakespeare’s Sir John Falstaff. Steve was a campus leader, and a member of numerous leadership organizations. He was inducted into Florida Blue Key, Florida’s most prestigious honorary leadership fraternity.
Upon graduation from UF, Steve attended FSU law school and studied English common law at St. Edmund’s Hall, Oxford, where as usual he was the most popular student there-often dressed in a smoking jacket with a meerschaum pipe, regaling his classmates with his knowledge of history, his non- stop wit, original musical compositions and, above all, laughter. One of Steve’s friends bought a used guitar at the Oxfam. Together they composed a dozen ballads and performed them at the “buttery”, rattling the cloistered medieval halls of St. Edmund’s Hall. His genius was always on colorful display, wrapped not in pedantry, but in joyous laughter.
Upon graduation from law school, Steve became a prosecutor with the state attorney, later with Florida Real Estate Commission, and then eventually he entered private practice from which he recently retired.
Steve moved back into his old schooldays neighborhood to retire.
Steve was a skilled trial lawyer with superior oratorical skills. Steve continued his life of creativity. He collaborated with several close friends on creative projects in a variety of media. He wrote plays like “Your Humble Servant, Dr. Samuel Johnson” and “Where in Hell is Heliogabalus” which were publicly performed. He was writing a book with one of his collaborators when he passed away. Steve co-founded the Literary Club which met for years in the upper library at Townsend’s Fish House where Steve “held court”. Steve painted the sign for Townsend’s Fish House and Tavern which was on Michigan Street for over 20 years, as well as the interiors and cypress beams. Steve, with a few friends going back to elementary school, performed original music at the Fish House, folk festivals, reunions and just about anywhere there was an audience. Steve continued to write and sing up until his last days and he had an amazing ability to layer his harmonies on any melody.
Steve was a superb artist, sketching caricatures in seconds or oil painting. Lucky are those friends who were given a gift of a Steve Johnson oil painting of bucolic Roman scenes. Steve was a collector of antiquarian books (and he read them), ancient coins and objects d’art.
Steve loved the traditions of the holidays. His home was always festively decorated for Christmas and Halloween-at Christmas homemade egg nog, fruitcakes soaked in bourbon, “cigars from the Sugar Islands” (as Steve would say), and hard candies served in his mother’s ruby glass candy dish- always one to keep tradition such as late night musicales with Steve banging Good King Wenceslas on the piano (learned by ear of course). The Steve Johnson stories could fill volumes.
Steve is survived by his sister, April Johnson Briese, his brother in law Judge Shawn L Briese (retired), niece Amanda Briese and nephew Staff Sergeant USAF Travis R. Briese (wife Elizabeth) Steve is also survived by his huge “family” of friends who love him dearly. Steve’s ashes will be interred at Emmanuel Episcopal Church Cemetery in Rapidan, Virginia next to his parents Eula and Milton. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Steve’s name to the Steve Johnson Memorial Scholarship at the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity, University of Florida.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, August 18, 2018 at 2 p.m. at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, 130 N. Magnolia Ave., Orlando. The Cathedral has a historical connection to Steve’s Virginia roots which Steve appreciated- a stained glass window in the narthex honors the grandson of Thomas Jefferson, Francis Eppes who moved to Tallahassee in 1826, and then to Orlando in 1869 where he was one of the founders St. Luke’s in 1881.
Please join us for a celebration of Steve’s life immediately following the service at the home of Tina and Mike Schrimsher. For more information visit loomisfamilycremations.com, or contact Clay Townsend 407-719-9866, Mike Schrimsher 407-810-3515; Mike Alley 407-405-0895.