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Reliable. Accountable. Cornerstone. Balanced. Compassionate. A true servant leader.
All words used to describe Gayle Johnson, who can now claim the accolade of Oldham Countian of the Year.
“I’m stunned that he hasn’t previously been recognized as Oldham Countian of the Year,” said. Duane Murner, a former county judge-executive who shared the award with his wife, Anne, last year.
“He’s an incredible resource for the community. He works with the Oldham County Education Foundation, Hope Health Clinic, Red Cross, Metro United Way, the 4-H Council, the Baptist Hospital Board and Foundation, and he’s been a Rotarian for 36 years. He’s all over the place.”
Johnson was surprised by the award at a Chamber of Commerce & Development dinner Tuesday night at Glen Oaks Country Club in Prospect. He had been lured there under the guise of speaking about one of the various causes he supports, the Hope Health Clinic.
Marsha Biven, assistant vice-president of Baptist Health La Grange, serves on the board of Hope Health Clinic with Johnson. The facility provides medical care for people who lack alternative healthcare solutions.
“Gayle was very much one of the leaders in Hope Health Clinic from the beginning,” Biven said. “He serves on the resource council, which finds ways to sustain the clinic with financial resources.”
Biven said Johnson has been a “wonderful” board chair who is very passionate about the causes he believes in, but also accountable in that he gets things done.
“He’s just always been there as one of the pillars of the community and the school board, too.”
In his years with Oldham County Schools, Johnson has served in a variety of positions. He began his career in 1968 as a science teacher for seventh and eighth graders. After serving in the military for two years, he became an assistant principal on the way to becoming a principal. He then transitioned into the board office, serving as interim superintendent, assistant superintendent, deputy superintendent and assistant to the superintendent. He retired from the district after 31 years, but returned to continue working with the schools. He currently works on special projects for the district, like coordinating efforts for teacher recognition and awards, pursuing grant opportunities and serving as a representative for the schools in various community agencies.
“I have so much to say about Gayle,” said Will Wells, Oldham County Schools superintendent. “He is a role model and a mentor. He is what all of us should aspire to be in our careers. He is exactly the kind of person who should receive an award like this.”
Wells said Johnson spends a great deal of time matching people in need with those who have the resources to help them, both on an individual basis and with organizations.
“He is focused on serving others and improving opportunities for others in both the professional and volunteer efforts he engages in.”
Anne Murner knows Johnson from her involvement with the Oldham County Education Foundation, where he acts as a liaison between the board of education at the foundation.
“He does an excellent job for the foundation and he keeps us on our toes,” Murner said. “He’s a pleasure to be around and he’s a very hard worker. He is well known and highly regarded by everyone who’s involved in Oldham County in terms of the good work he does and the effort he puts into what he does. He is truly deserving of this honor.”
Dr. Blake Haselton, the former superintendent of Oldham County Schools, has known Johnson for over 40 years. He thinks the reason Johnson is so committed to service can be traced to his upbringing.
“I think his parents had a major influence on him. Both were educators,” Haselton said. “He grew up learning that you make wherever you are a better place than when you found it.”
Haselton called Johnson a “contributor” who provides active, dependable support to each cause he chooses to be a part of. He said Johnson had earned a reputation for his service, primarily because he can be counted on to follow through.
“He’s asked to do a lot because he contributes a lot when he decides to be a part of something,” Haselton said. “And he’s not looking for personal recognition. He doesn’t seek attention for the work he does. And he can lead, follow or participate, depending on what needs to be done.”
But on Tuesday night, Johnson and all his contributions to the county were front and center. True to his personality, Johnson deflected attention away from himself and instead acknowledged those people in his life and career that had influenced him in some way when he was announced as the Oldham Countian of the Year.
“I am humbled and astounded and very appreciative,” Johnson said. “I just hope that in some small way that I’ve been able to give back a small portion of all the ways I have bee blessed.”
Undoubtedly, Johnson has touched many lives in Oldham County through his work, his community service, his volunteerism and the example he leaves behind.
“His legacy will be all the people he’s touched through his initiatives,” Haselton said.
Johnson plans to retire again from Oldham County Schools at the end of this school year so he can enjoy time in Florida with his wife, Betty Sue. The district is already working to understand all that Johnson, whom Wells referred to as the “resident historian,” does in order to distribute his duties to others.
“He’s the kind of guy that when you lose one person like him, it’s like losing one and a half or two people,” Wells said. “It will be a huge void for the district and the community. He just knows how to make things happen.”