Remembering James “Foxy” Johnson
by Wes Frye (part I), Patrick Bray (part II) & John Bryant (part III)
[Editor’s Note: James “Foxy” Johnson was the first Reservation Director at the Old Hickory Boxwell. He passed away in December 2000. Here are remembrances from Parnell staff members Wes Frye, Pat Bray, and John Bryant]
Here’s a few thoughts I have on [‘Foxy”].
It was not the easiest thing in the world to meet with him prior to Summer Camp and “negotiate” a pay raise. If you got $5 more a week ($30 to $35) you felt like you had really accomplished something.
Foxy was notorious for parking his car along the Camp Light road and hiding in the bushes to observe the goings-on at the Parnell Waterfront…enough said!
One summer prior to camp starting, 3 or 4 of us were working in the Compound and it was HOT. There were stacks of cold drinks but they were HOT also. Skip Dow said he’d heard you could cool things by bubbling air through gasoline. Since there was a compressor and cans of gasoline available, we decided to give it a try. We took turns holding the air line in the bucket of gasoline filled with cold drinks and it wasn’t long before someone said, “Foxy’s coming!” We cut off the compressor & proceeded to look busy as Foxy walked up. He took one look at the bucket of drinks in gasoline, looked at us, and said, “Looks like somebody’s trying to cool down some drinks”. He then turned around & walked away. Once again, we were unable to out-fox Foxy.
My last summer there, 1967, I went early and spent the days on the small John Deere running a bush-hog. At that time, the pine trees across from the Crippled Crab were about 7-8 feet tall but you couldn’t see the back row from the road. Foxy told me to cut around the trees but I’d better not hit any of them. Sure enough, as I was cutting at a point farthest from the road, I knocked down a tree, I was relieved when I realized you couldn’t see the tree from the road. That evening at the Dining Hall, Foxy came up to me and merely said, “I see you cut down one of the trees”. How he knew that still amazes me but his stare and that comment were all the discipline I needed and once again I realized, you couldn’t out-fox Foxy!
During 1966 or 67, I was the Secretary for Wa Hi Nasa & published a newsletter, Foxy lived in Donelson (as I did) and I spent many evenings going over the newsletter with him at his home and came to find out how gentle and considerate James Johnson was. His guidance and direction, not only during that time, but the whole time I knew him and
worked for him no doubt had an impact on my life and I’m sure he affected countless others.
It’s unfortunate that one’s passing causes us to reflect on the impact that person had
on our lives after they’re gone.
Wes Frye did a great job of recalling the Foxy Johnson I knew for 5 years. I would just add a few observations.
His nickname stuck because it was so right. Of course, we all addressed him as Mr. Johnson but otherwise it was just “Foxy.” Until I saw his first name recently, I could not have recalled it with any certainty. And like Wes, I include myself as one who was greatly influenced by him.
First, there was his obvious physical resemblance to a fox, i.e., the bald head except for the flowing red hair on the side, the pointy nose, and the eyes that were alert to everything. Beyond that was his mind, especially his memory, which was phenomenal. Foxy was the complete opposite of the boss who can’t remember your name. Whatever you told Foxy about yourself (and once was quite enough) he would surely remember it and bring it up with unfailing accuracy.
I was in my late teenage and early adulthood years when I knew Foxy, and so I view him from that perspective. As the father now of two teenage boys, I know that age group doesn’t award respect easily. There was no disrespect intended in Foxy Johnson’s nickname. In my view, it was more an affirmation of his leadership.
Wes and Pat have done a good job describing Foxy Johnson, and I will add a few of my recollections.
I first met Mr. Johnson in early 1963 when he interviewed me for a job on the camp staff. The interview occurred in the old house on 25th Avenue North that was then being used as the Council Office. He was very nice, but very business-like and to the point. I left the interview with a great sense of accomplishment, having landed a job AND negotiated a princely salary of $25 per week.
As Wes and Pat have reported, Foxy was notorious for walking out of the bushes at the
most inopportune times. He always seemed uncannily to walk up just as the dust was beginning to settle from any disaster or misadventure. Afterward we always reflected that he must have had the reservation wired with optical and sound sensors that summoned him immediately to the scene of our criminal activity.
His management style with the staff was never what I would call “warm and fuzzy.” He was friendly enough and very fair, but never attempted to become a “buddy” of staff members. He made it clear that although work on the camp staff should be fun, we all had a very serious job to do: see to it that every Scout who came to camp had the very best Scouting experience we could provide. Anything less to him was a disappointment. The old mimeographed staff manual that was distributed each summer bore this legend in bold print on the first page: “REMEMBER, THIS IS NO VACATION FOR YOU!” (I still have an old copy.) Although we jokingly recited this slogan to each other on especially appropriate occasions over the years, I think it is illustrative of the high expectations that Foxy had for his camp staff. From the very first day, he made it clear that every single person on the staff was hand-picked, that each person had a very important role to play, and that he would be satisfied only with our very best. He modeled that spirit. I seldom saw him lounging around camp in a relaxed pose. Almost all of my memories of Foxy in camp have him walking at a brisk pace toward his immediate objective, as if on a mission. He exuded energy and alertness that, along with his thinning red hair, cemented his nickname: “Foxy.”
Foxy Johnson was not alone among staff members who shaped the collective personality and character of the Boxwell staff during his tenure, but he as much as anyone set the high standard to which we (usually) aspired. He deserves much of the credit for the success of the Council’s camping program during those years, and he, directly and indirectly, influenced many lives for good.
He will be missed.