Updated: Monday, 19 Oct 2009, 1:13 PM CDT
Published : Sunday, 18 Oct 2009, 4:10 PM CDT
Former 8th district Congressman Jay Johnson died Saturday of an apparent heart attack. A family spokesperson says Johnson, a former television anchor at WLUK-TV, was at home in suburban Washington D.C. when he collapsed. His wife JoLee was with him when he died. Johnson was 66 years old.
"I don't think I've ever worked with anybody who was more patient than Jay," said Danielle Bina, who worked with Jay Johnson for more than a decade, at both WLUK-TV and WFRV-TV.
Johnson spent 32 years as a journalist. His broadcasting career took him all across the country. Besides his work in Green Bay, Johnson also worked in Florida and Michigan. He even spent time as a disc jockey in Texas.
"He would walk up to anybody, anywhere and start up a conversation," Bina recalled. "He loved people, he absolutely loved people," Bina said. She also said she looked up to her co-anchor and will always remember Johnson's sense of humor.
"He had all these sayings," Bina said. "When he put on a few pounds he would call it his 'anchor muscle' and he'd say everybody should put this on because it helps you support your breath when you're on the air and we'd all go yeah Jay, have another doughnut you know. But he was so good natured about it. He was just a delightful human being all the way around."
Many people knew Johnson from his days on the news. But those who knew him best, say there was much more to him.
"He was a much broader, wider range person than most people knew or would give him credit for," said Paul Willems, who worked on Johnson's congressional campaigns and on his congressional staff. Willems said Johnson loved music and theater. Willems said Johnson's popularity propelled him from the anchor desk to Congress.
"He was a trusted figure and I think that's why he was elected," Willems said. "People certainly didn't vote for him based on his political experience. They knew him and they trusted him."
Johnson was elected to Congress as a Democrat in 1996. In Congress, Johnson served on the House Transportation and Agriculture committees. He served one term before losing to Republican Mark Green in 1998. Sidney Vineburg, chairman of the Democratic party for the 8th Congressional District, said that loss wasn't easy for Johnson.
"I think Jay really missed having been only a one term Congressperson," Vineburg said. "I think he really felt there was a lot more he could do."
After he left Congress, Johnson became the director of the U.S. Mint, a post he held for about one year. His most recent position was with Jay Johnson Coins and Consulting where he developed a major wholesale coin sales program for a national bank. Johnson worked as a consultant and returned to the airwaves, this time, promoting gold.
While Johnson is now gone, his memory will live on in the lives of those he knew.
"I'm sad," Bina said. "It just isn't the same without him."
Johnson served in the United States Army as an information specialist from 1966-1968.
Away from work, Johnson served on the boards of several
non-profit organizations, including the Family Violence Center in
Green Bay, Easter Seals of Wisconsin, United Way of Brown County
and Wisconsin United Way.
Funeral arrangements for Johnson are still being finalized.