by Dr. Elsie L. Scott
Have you had a friend or loved one pass away during a period when you were making plans to visit him or her? After happening to me when my father passed during the writing of my dissertation, it happened to me again when my friend, Ray Johnson, passed away earlier this month. I was planning to visit him at the end of month when I traveled to San Francisco to attend a conference. I had not seen him for a few years because every time I traveled to California, I was dealing with family illnesses or deaths.
If I had had the opportunity to visit with my friend, I probably would have talked about some of the good times we shared. We may talk about meeting at his first NOBLE Conference in 1986, not long after he had been appointed Chief of Police of the Inglewood, California Police Department. He had a way of engaging people so he did not have a hard time making friends at the Conference. Little did I know he would become like a brother and one of my dearest friends.
We might talk about the long, NOBLE Board meetings and how he helped me decompress over a glass of wine. We may talk about some of the interesting people we met through NOBLE. We might talk about Harold Johnson with his booming commands at the Memorial March or his testimony at the Senate Judiciary hearings. Or we may talk about the personalities that emerged from the business meetings at the Conference such as Alvarenga (I don’t remember his first name) from New York who always had a point of order and who wanted the ballots to look “aesthetically beautiful”. We may get caught up on what is happening with our mutual friends such as Bobi Wallace and Donald Hollingsworth.
If we could really reminisce, I would thank him for facilitating my first trip to a Super Bowl. After I told him of my wish to attend a Super Bowl, he arranged for me to get a ticket through Pasadena Chief James Robenson. He did not know that I was going to tell him I needed a ride also. He not only took me to the Super Bowl, he brought along a tailgate lunch. If you knew Ray, you knew that he had a lot of class. He brought a good bottle of wine that was served in crystal wine glasses and cloth napkins, the works. A limousine was parked next to his car and the people in the limousine asked if they could join our party.
I am certain we would talk about family. I never met Ray’s parents, siblings or his daughter, but I knew all about them. He never met my family, but he always asked about them. I am certain we would talk about my family’s memorial fund created to honor the memory of my father. Ray was impressed with the work of the fund, especially the scholarships we awarded each year. He would tell his wife, Pat to make certain that she continue giving to the fund. (When I spoke with Pat after he passed, she told me that he told her to make certain she got the information on the fund and continued to donate after his death.)
I probably would bring up the article in a newspaper that referred to him as the “Willie Brown of Law Enforcement”. For those who don’t know, Willie Brown was the Speaker of the California Assembly. Ray was compared to Brown, not because of his political engagement, but because of his expensive suits. We would get a laugh about the time that Brown came by to see him to make certain that his suits qualified to be compared to Brown’s.
We would also laugh about the time when Ray was interviewed for Police Commissioner of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The City Manager had selected me to sit on the interview panel. I thought Ray had a great interview, but a Harvard white male sitting on the panel thought just the opposite. I think that from the time Ray walked in, he was intimidated. The Harvard professor made a remark about Ray being too Hollywood. Of course Ray was California to the bone, and I think he only applied for the position because I encouraged him to look at opportunities outside of California.
I would thank him for all of the cards he has sent me over the years. Ray was a bigger card lover than me. I would get Easter, Thanksgiving, sometimes Halloween (and I don’t like Halloween) and of course Christmas and birthday.
I don’t know whether Ray still had his art collection, but if he did, he would proudly explain each acquisition and the history of its acquisition, and talk about other pieces he thought about acquiring.
Ray Johnson was a special man who meant a lot to the people whose lives he touched. He loved his fellow California Highway Patrol officers. From what I have heard about the support being given to Pat by them, I am sure the feelings were mutual. He would proudly talk about some of the officers who came behind him who he mentored.
The compassionate Ray extended beyond family, friends, and colleagues to the juveniles whose cases he had to review as member of the Juvenile Parole Commission. Most of these young people will never know what he did to try to help them get their lives on track.
I would thank him and Pat for having the type relationship that allowed me to keep my friendship with Ray after they were married. Ray introduced me to Pat over the phone as one of his dear friends. He was certain we would like each other, and we did. When they came to DC, I had a chance to meet her in person. The cards continued to come from Ray and Pat, and Pat and I became Facebook friends until she decided to close her account. Ray would probably ask me to stay in touch with Pat and check on her periodically to make certain she was okay.
I am glad he found that special woman with whom he could share the latter part of his life. I used to tell him that he was too opinionated, too neat and organized to get married again, but he found the right woman in Pat.
I did not get a chance to say good-bye, but I think he knew what he meant to me. He will be in my memories every birthday (his and mine) and every Super Bowl, at NOBLE Conferences, and in those moments when some incident or something someone says something to remind me of him, or I hear someone with a very hearty laugh like his.
So Go and Run Free
So go and run free with the angels
Dance around the golden clouds
For the Lord has chosen you to be with him
And we should feel nothing but proud
Although he has taken you from us
And our pain a lifetime will last
Your memory will never escape us
But make us glad for the time we did have
Your face will always be hidden
Deep inside our hearts
Each precious moment you gave us
Shall never, ever depart
So go and run free with the angels
As they sing so tenderly
And please be sure to tell them
To take good care of you for me