A Tribute To The Greatest Of All Men - Clarence H. JOHNSON Passed Away
A Tribute To The Greatest Of All Men - Clarence H. JOHNSON Passed Away
It was end of May, 1998, in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital city, at what turned out to be the last IWF meeting Clarence H. Johnson was attending. The Executive Board members were invited to their colleague's, two-times Olympic champion Norair Nourikian's Armenian Restaurant and all had good food, good drinks and fun. Clarence was in a mood for anecdotes. He told jokes, but, as always with him, these were no mere funny stories but had a touch of emotion and a moral lecture in them. The kind of stories that make you smile but also induce you to pause for a moment and look inside yourself.
The one joke Clarence said was like this: There are three guys who are very good friends. Two of them are believers and church-goers, the third one does not believe in God. One day, the third one who is no believer dies. His friends gather around his coffin and look at the dead neatly dressed. Then one asks his friend: 'I don't know what he is so dressed up for – he has got nowhere to go...'
Well, being one of the best and most noble-thinking men we have ever known, and a strong believer, Clarence certainly did have somewhere to go. We are certain it was heaven.
Another thing that sticks clearly in our mind is the speech Clarence delivered the following day at the IWF's Congress, still in Sofia. It was a powerful speech, commanding attention from all delegates, oriented at – what else at an age of 92 and a half? – the future. Once the President of this Federation himself, he did not spare words to congratulate, praise and encourage the present leaders of the IWF, including his own successor, Gottfried Schödl. Only the greatest of men are capable of pushing aside personal pride, accepting defeat by a competitor (when Schödl was elected President in 1972), what is more, continuing activity in "lower" positions keeping in sight only the very benefit of the sport he loves, its progress and prosperity. In all his years since he stepped down as President, Clarence was ready to give advice, act as peacemaker sometimes and his wisdom was appreciated by all.
May you rest in peace in heaven, Clarence, Father of the IWF.
The passing of a giant
On July 22, 1998, Clarence Johnson aged ninty two and a half passed away quietly in his sleep at his home in Royal Oak, Michigan.
I have been asked to write some words in his behalf for those who did not know him so well, but also for those who knew him for many years in our sport. I suddenly realized that to recount all the memories of trips and meetings we had during the many years we travelled together and bunked together, would fill a volume, so I will only stay with some highlights of this remarkable man's life.
His civic life achievements were incredible:
City of Royal Oak Man of the Year 1988;
He served on many organizations and foundations as president, treasurer, board member for more than 50 years. He was a pillar of strength in his church and at times when the pastor was ill acutely gave the sermons and invocations in his place. His profession was accounting, having been in this field for 72 years...
He raised huge sums of monies for hispitals, religious organizations and churches... and did the auditing for the US Weightlifting Foundation for free all the years of its existence. His role in international weightlifting was even more spectacular – I do not dwell on this now. He would sit in on the Executive Board meetings, having no voice nor vote, but wished to be involved to the end of his days.
Last December, approaching 92 years of age, when most men are either in rocking chairs, retirement homes, etc., this man travelled to Chiang Mai, Thailand, with me on one of the longest trips I ever made, just to sit in on a six hour Executive Board meeting of weightlifting. Talk about dedication and love for our sport... On the way home, we stayed all night at Bangkok airport waiting for our flight back to the States. He refused to go to sleep, but spoke freely of his life and past experiences. I then asked him a question which had been on my mind for many years. How many countries had he visited during his lifetime? The answer: 140 countries. Almost as many as there are in the world, and I do not know of anyone who could match this.
Several anecdotes are worth telling about this remarkable man.
In 1980, the State Department agreed to let us take a weightlifting team to Shanghai, China. Much of this was due to the efforts of Jim Fox who negotiated a further trip to Beijing and the Great Wall. Upon landing in Tokyo, they promptly lost my luggage with my heavy winter clothes, and so I stayed several weeks with the same suit and flimsy raincoat. Arriving in Beijing after the meet in Shanghai, I noted how cold it was, being end of November. We stayed at the Sports Academy, where there was no heating. One night it was so cold that I slept with all my clothes on including the raincoat. Clarence, as usual, shared the room with me. He always slept in the nude... At about three in the morning it grew so cold, I awoke with my teeth chattering. Clarence was not in the room. Thinking he may have had a problem, I ran into the hallway looking for him. It was a long hallway about two hundred feet long leading to the showers. There he was stark naked, walking down the hall on the way to the showers...
It was also noticed that at the age of 75 he ran up and down the Great Wall like a lizard, while most of us were out of breath... Much has been said of his great capacity for Coca Cola. We both shared this liking not only for Cola but for Vitamine E as well. Each of us took 1500 units a day when the average person was taking 20 units.
In 1987, at the Pan Am Games in Indianapolis, Clarence shared a room with myself and Rafael Guerrero. He started his day at 6 a.m. reaching in for a cold Coca Cola followed by at least 7 or 8 more during the day. He said the fizz would wake him up and get him going...
In 1996 at the Atlanta Games, he was introduced to Newt Gingrich, Republican Speaker of the House. Clarence was age 90 and had a long talk with Newt.
Earlier in that year, Clarence had fallen on the ice while carrying two cases of Coca Cola. Unfortunately, he broke his jaw in the process. Friends and relatives have all agreed that this shortaged his life as he could no longer eat solid food but only drank liquids to sustain himself.
This was the only time to my knowledge he missed an IWF meeting except when his wife was ill 10 years earlier. This wonderful man touched many lives during his own lifetime. At the funeral, when I looked down at him in his casket, I noticed he was wearing his IWF jacket... He now rests in heaven, with his wife whom he loved so dearly and old friend John Terpak. He decdicated much of his life to the sport and I will miss him ver much. He was a dear friend.
From the condolences received at the IWF:
"I Lost a friend, and weightliftint lost a symbol." - Malih Alaywan, Lebanon
"Clarence H. Johnson became an integral part of the world history of weightlifting. On July 22nd, 1998 we witnessed how one form of life vanished. We shall all remember Clarence's always cheerful, smiling face, his untiring kindness and readiness to help, to assist everybody in every possible way." – Sabah Abdi Abdulla, Iraq
Further condolences were offered by: Finnish Weightlifting Federation (Esa Lomma, President, Pekka Kare Honorary President, Anne Hoikkala, Office Manager) and the National Olympic Committee of Turkey (Sinan Erdem, President and Togay Bayatli, Secretary General)