CLEARWATER — J.B. Johnson, a former City Council member known for his cool head and aversion to the biting discourse of politics as usual, died on Monday. He was 94.
He served from 1995 to 2000 during a time of controversial city projects, including the creation of the city's master plan for beach development, the push for downtown revitalization and building of the Clearwater Beach's roundabout. Friends remember his motto through it all: "You may disagree, but you don't have to be disagreeable," a disposition that made him a no-brainer choice to serve two interim appointments when council members resigned in 2004 and 2006.
"I've always referred to J.B. as the finest Southern gentleman you'll ever meet in your life," said Ed Hooper, a former City Council member who served with Johnson. "He stated his case. He was no pushover. But he argued his points as tactfully and politely as he could."
Johnson grew up in North Carolina and served in the Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1946, attending aviation mechanics school in Texas and B24 training in California.
A lifelong athlete, he played minor league baseball after his military service for the Newnan Browns and was affiliated with the Detroit Tigers. He made a mark during four years in the minor leagues as an outstanding pitcher, once establishing a long-held record of pitching a double header without allowing any runs.
He began his professional career with the Fireman's Fund Insurance Company in Atlanta in 1946 and transferred to Clearwater in 1964 with his wife, Sarah.
He delved into politics after retiring in 1985, first serving on the planning and zoning board before running for City Council.
Johnson's closest friends, former Clearwater High School athletic director Bill Justice and wife Marian, said nothing in life was more important to him than his wife, Sarah, who died in 2010 after 65 years of marriage.
Sharing the same wedding anniversary of March 12, the Johnsons and Justices celebrated together every year — in 2005 walking into their Trinity Presbyterian Church to find 60 roses waiting for Sarah on the chancel, one for every year of marriage, Marian Justice said.
This week, Bill Justice said he'll always remember his friend's sense of humor and politeness above all. He laughed at a memory from 2004, when then-mayor Brian Aungst Sr. squelched a harmonica tribute Justice planned to play for Johnson at his final City Council meeting after serving an interim term.
Aungst had a change of heart after public scrutiny and invited Justice to play the tribute at a later city advisory board dinner.
Johnson that night urged everyone to move on from the drama, using his signature motto: "We can disagree, but for goodness sake, don't be disagreeable," Johnson said at the meeting.
Johnson's memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Trinity Presbyterian Church, 2001 Rainbow Drive in Clearwater.
Contact Tracey McManus at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. Follow @TroMcManus.