January 3, 1935 – April 22, 2022
Eulogy – Kerry Johnson
Today we remember Marvin Allen Johnson: husband, father, papa, and great-papa. Dad passed away on April 22, 2022, at the Michael Garron Hospital (Toronto East General) in Toronto. He was 87 years of age.
Marvin is survived by his wife of over 65 years, Mildred, his son Kerry (Heather), daughter Dianne Gardner (Christopher), and son Scott (Doris). Dad had eight grandchildren Laura Stafford (Cory), David Gardner (Sarah), Heather Gardner, Emily Cox (Ben), Sarah Pilato (Sammy), Larissa Johnson, Colin Johnson and Ian Johnson. He also had five great-grandchildren Skyler Stafford, Abel Stafford, Jake Gardner, Jack Cox, and Penny Cox.
Marvin was predeceased by his parents Hermon and Nell Johnson (both in 1993) and his brother Alvin Johnson (2021).
When word began to spread about Dad’s passing, the impact of his life became readily apparent as tributes from around the globe began to come in from the many who knew him over the years from many different aspects of his life. Cheryl Preston said it best when she wrote “He was definitely one of a kind”.
Marvin was born January 3, 1935 in Winnipeg Manitoba. He was raised in the Beresford Apartments on Osborne Street in Winnipeg, where other extended family members lived. In fact, his grandparents, Ma and Pa Sanger, were the superintendents of the apartment building.
Dad was raised in a Christian family and the impact of his life as a young man in Winnipeg was a foreshadowing of what was to come. His cousin Aynsley Fritts in her Facebook post stated, “I knew Marvin as a young man. He was kind and a wonderful example to all the young people. A wonderful man has gone on to his eternal home. Marvin spent his whole life in preparation for meeting The Lord. I have precious memories of times shared in the young people’s class”.
As a young man, Dad trained as an electrician, a word that became synonymous with the name “Marvin”. When asked to describe an “electrician”, one quickly conjures up a picture of Marvin. In fact, one year at Halloween, Terry Codling came to a party dressed as an electrician, fingers all bandaged from electrical burns, and a duct tape name tag with “Marvin” written on it. Dad’s interest in his electrical training never left him.
In the mid-1950s, many of the young people in Winnipeg and Carman, Manitoba would be back-and-forth to visit. Dad became friends with Jim Hobbs, and would go out to visit Jim, from what I understand do a bit of hunting. What kind of “hunting” that exactly was, I’m not sure, but ultimately, he landed a “deer” named Mildred Hobbs. Marvin and Mildred were married on October 13, 1956 in Carman, Manitoba. Soon after marrying, they purchased a home in the Winnipeg suburb of Transcona. They didn’t have much. But, they had a roof over their heads, a few pieces of necessary furniture and each other. There they began to raise their family as Kerry, Dianne and Scott were born.
Dad continued to work as an electrician and be involved in the Osborne Street Church of Christ congregation. Penny Haskayne remembered those days in Winnipeg, stating, “Having grown up around your dad and mum, I learned a lot…your dad was truly a very strong Christian, loved the Lord and was a wonderful friend and Sunday school teacher.
After working as an electrician for several years, Dad and Mom made the decision to go into the ministry. The family moved to Toronto in late September of 1969 to work with the Strathmore Blvd. Church of Christ. Dad continued to work with the Strathmore Church of Christ until 1980 as its minister and evangelist. During this time he also began to serve the congregation as an elder, which he continued to do until his death. His desire to help and serve others was clear from the start.
It’s during this time that many of the things we remember about Dad crystallized. Marvin had many interests for the Lord’s service. Closest to his heart were Strathmore Blvd. Church of Christ (Toronto, ON), Great Lakes Christian High School (Beamsville, ON), Great Lakes Bible College (Waterloo, ON), Camp Omagh (West Milton, ON) and Grove Park Home (Barrie, ON)..
At Strathmore, one of his interests was the work with the Herald of Truth television broadcasts, a local cable broadcast put on by Strathmore, and subsequently Key to the Kingdom broadcasts. Over many years, Dad worked on and participated in these productions to spread the gospel throughout Canada on the cable networks. He was often behind the scenes on production, but sometimes would also venture into the spotlight as part of the message being broadcast. Some of these experiences then translated to his backstage involvement in the Scarborough Gilbert & Sullivan Society, where he helped with backstage, sets and lighting.
Grove Park Home was one of the first organizations Dad became involved with after moving to Toronto. Dad served on the Board of Directors for over 45 years, often as the Chair of the Board. His legacy is remembered at Grove Park Home with several honours that were bestowed upon him. For his 30 years on the Board, a portrait was commissioned to hang on the walls of the home, and can be seen in the slideshow to be viewed at the end of the celebration. For Mom & Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary, Grove Park Home named its training and meeting room “The Marvin & Mildred Johnson Centre for Excellence”. Upon retirement from the Board after his 45 years of service, Grove Park Home created an annual award of recognition presented to a volunteer that has displayed exceptional volunteer service. This award is called: “The Marvin Johnson Award for Exceptional Volunteer Service”. Paul Taylor, the current Executive Director, stated, “Marvin was such a good man. I can tell you that he had a very large impact on the home and contributed greatly to the amazing culture that continues to persist to this day. He is a big part of our legacy. I was pleased to work with Marvin on the Board in my early years here at Grove and I can say that he will be missed.”
Dad also spent many hours at Great Lakes Christian College helping with projects that involved electrical work. He was always concerned that the school would have the safest environment from an electrical perspective for the students and staff. In fact, Dad oversaw most of the electrical work for the addition of the gymnasium in the late 1970s. At the time, the addition was on a very tight budget, and the school was wanting to put on its annual dramatic production. I was a student at Great Lakes at the time involved in the production. Dad did what he could to ensure that the stage was lighted enough for the production by rigging flood lights to the beams in the gymnasium pointing at the stage.
Dad also worked on the girls’ dormitory at Great Lakes redoing all the electrical work with Leo Razon and Dave and Seymour Azzopardi. Dianne remembers Don Rose commenting on how Dad saw the need and instead of just saying it needed to be done, he was proactive on assisting to get it done. Dad was over 80 at the time, and Dianne commented that he mostly supervised the project, something he did well! More recently, Dad desperately wished he could have been involved in the major renovations taking place at the school.
Camp Omagh, and Camp Manitou, were also special interests of Dad. In addition to the electrical work at Camp Omagh, Dad spent many hours there working on and repairing the swimming pool. This seemed to be a never-ending concern of Dad’s while involved with the camp. In fact, when Heather and I recently moved to our home in Cambridge that had a pool very similar to the one at Camp Omagh, Dad was very happy to hear that we had decided to fill it in. Dad was also involved in Bible teaching at both camps.
It was at Camp Manitou that Dad received the only nickname that we ever knew of. Everyone there referred to him as “Magilla Gorilla”. We’re not sure of the circumstances surrounding him getting that name. But, there is actually some science behind the moniker! Humans are reportedly the only primates that are able to touch their little finger tip to the tip of their thumbs. Unfortunately, Dad’s hands were so wide that he wasn’t able to do that. So, there may be some substance to the Magilla Gorilla nickname. Nevertheless, this phenomenon was a source of loving jests in our home. In fact, Dad was part of the fun, as Sarah Pilato remembers “He would joke that he was a gorilla because he said he didn’t have opposable thumbs.”
While we, as kids, were growing up during Dad’s time as an evangelist, we often weren’t able to spend time with Dad on the weekends. Saturdays, Dad was usually at either Grove Park Home, Great Lakes, or Camp Omagh. Sunday for a preacher is a “work day”. So, our weekends weren’t filled with family activities as many families do.
However, I remember that we always had our evening meals together around a family dinner table. My sister, Dianne, recalled “I always enjoyed a good cuddle with my Dad. I remember sitting on his lap after supper as a kid and having a cuddle. He would lay down with me at night when I was worried or upset and it was a comfort to know how much he loved me”. The cuddles must be a genetic thing for the girls in our family, as this is something that Sarah also liked to do with Papa as a little girl.
It was a dinner table that was full of conversation and laughter. So much so, that there was many a friend at our dinner table that spit out their drink as someone delivered a punchline while they were taking a drink. Joyce McDonnell commented on Facebook, “I treasure the memories of living with you the summer of ‘79, so much joy and laughter around the dinner table with all of you”
In 1980, Dad decided to go back to working in the electrical industry for full time employment, but he maintained his involvement with Strathmore as an elder, Bible teacher, and often would preach. Over the following years, other evangelists came and went. Mark Bryson recalls “Marvin was my first mentor and big brother in Christ. It was his influence that got Laura and I to the wonderful Strathmore family. I will never forget our Tim Horton’s coffees, dinners with the family, elder meetings, always encouraging and trying to build me up. He was a man given to God’s Kingdom”. One of Dad’s most rewarding experiences in leading the church, I believe, was when Max Craddock came to work with Strathmore and was there for two decades. As Andrew “Tosh” Kalista remembers of Dad, “he and Max made a great team” and Brian Thompson added, “I’m sure Marvin & Max are excited to be together again.”
Dad worked in the electrical industry for the next two decades until he retired at age 67. Most of those years were spent with Independent Electric. In fact, Dad performed the wedding ceremony for Independent Electric’s owner, Bob Branscombe, as well as many others, some of whom are here today. Regarding this, Mike Toohey wrote “great man of faith (who did a wonderful job performing a wedding on Aug 25, 1979)”.
Dad cherished working at Independent Electric. In fact, when the company recently celebrated its 100th anniversary, Dad repeatedly told us that “Independent is celebrating 100 years, you know!” Dad became a little forgetful in recent years. As he did during his preaching days, Dad continued to encourage and mentor others. Bob Merritt, a coworker at Independent and my high school roommate remembers, “We have many fond memories of Marvin over the 45 year plus I have known your family. It was great to work with Marvin over the almost 40 years he was always a gentleman and his Christianity was always evident. I spoke with him a couple of months ago and it was great to know he still had his great sense of humour. He will be deeply missed but Heaven has gained an Angel.”
Mentorship is a theme in the life of my Dad. Scott recalls Dad seeing his interest in the bits of electrical items scattered on Dad’s desk as he prepared his sermons. Dad encouraged him to pursue a trade he was interested in to ensure he would always have employment options to fall back on. Scott recalls that Dad and Mom were able to see him put this advice into action when they were once visiting in Winnipeg when Scott lost his job and needed to find other employment. Ultimately, because of Dad’s advice, Scott never went without a paycheque.
In retirement, Dad continued to do as much as he could for the church, Grove Park Home, and Great Lakes. After living in their house for a few years in retirement, in December 2018, Mom and Dad moved to Presentation Manor in Scarobrough, where they could still be close to the Strathmore family. Of course, everyone at the Manor knew Marvin!! In fact, on learning of his passing, a member of the administration noted “everyone feels like they have lost their best friend”.
All through his life, Dad was an influence on others for good. Laurel Rentola Mirams recalls “Your Dad was a really special man who gave and taught us so much. His deep chuckle and wisdom will be remembered until we see him again”. Marilyn Wood Whitfield noted on Facebook “Reading through the MANY messages it’s easy to see how loved and respected your Dad was. I so appreciate the many times staying with your folks and having such good talks. Marvin had a quiet but powerful spirit and so much good common sense!” Chris Page recalled “I remember the first time he and I really talked. I had preached a sermon at Fennel Ave and he came up to me and said “Good lesson…ready to be critiqued.” I thought ‘Oh oh…here it comes.’ and he built me up with love. He was an amazing person. We were blessed by his love and guidance and the example he always showed in God”.
From a family perspective, Dad loved us in his own quiet way. He rarely said “I love you”, but we always knew he did through his actions. Dianne explained “I always remember him smiling and laughing. He enjoyed a good laugh. He liked to watch Bugs Bunny with me on Saturdays even when I was an adult! He was the best Daddy ever. It was always such a comfort knowing I could always call him and talk about anything. Always supportive of me and my family. All of my kids felt he was their Papa, even though he wasn’t a biological Papa to the oldest 4. I always appreciated the fact that Mom and Dad took them on as family and their grand kids.”
Dad’s grandson David remembers “My favourite memory is when he took me to Maple Leaf Gardens for a tour backstage and showed us how the ice is made and how everything worked. We also got game pucks. He would always get me anything Maple Leafs related because he knew how much I liked them. Also in more recent times, when we bought our first house, all the tools he gave me to help with renovations and wood working. He was also so caring and loving to help us out with anything that we needed or would just make me smile. I still use them all to this day and think about him anytime I use any of them.”
Granddaughter Emily recalls, “Some of my fondest memories of Papa is when he would take us to the park across the street from their house. He would always push me on the swings for a long time. More recently, when Grandma and Papa first met Jack (he was about 2 months old), Jack was babbling to Papa and he was talking back to him like they were having a full conversation. As Jack got older he loved listening to Papa’s stories. When we would go visit at the home, Penny would walk down the hall holding Papa’s hand while Jack would help push his walker. I will definitely miss his smile and sense of humour.”
Dad could sometimes seem like he had a gruff exterior. However, as inferred by Emily, when it came to the grand kids and great-grand kids, he was all mush inside. Sarah remembers, “Shortly after I got engaged, we went to see him and grandma at the manor. I was having a hard time understanding him because he had been a bit weak and having a difficult time talking. He held on to my right hand and, thinking he was looking to see my engagement ring, told him he had the wrong hand. He teared up and said “no, it’s this one. This is the hand you reached out and held on to my finger in the incubator”
From my own perspective, I’m definitely not the “handyman” Dad was. His way of showing me that he cared, in addition to being supportive of my career and education, was to make sure that each home Heather and I owned was in good repair. When visiting, he would bring his tool belt and survey the apartment or house to see if there was anything that he thought needed to be fixed. When looking to buy our first home together, the first thing Dad did was to make sure that there was a more than adequate electrical service in the house, and organized a service upgrade installed within weeks after we moved in. More recently with our new-to-us Cambridge home, Dad was concerned about the electrical service. We had the electrical service upgraded on April 21st, and Dad passed away on April 22nd, almost as if he wiped his hands and “there, my work here is done”.
I believe Rayburn Lansdell summarized Dad’s life best when he posted on Facebook “I have fond memories of Mr. Johnson as a cook at Camp Manitou, then as a preacher at Strathmore when we were at Bayview, then as a volunteer electrician at Great Lakes when I was a high school student. Just a tiny piece of a life of service that provided me glimpses of what it looked like to live as a Jesus follower.
Mr. Johnson, Marv, Dad, Papa, you will be missed greatly by all who had the pleasure and privilege to know you. Thank you for your example of a life dedicated to serving God and others.