Citizen of the Month: Phil Johnson

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phil_johnson_march_13By BELINDA ELLIOTT

Two of Phil Johnson’s favorite pastimes are spending time outdoors and helping people. On any given day you may find the Chesapeake resident planting trees at municipal sites around the city, facilitating workshops for the Virginia Camellia Society, attending board meetings for civic organizations, or conducting educational tours at Chesapeake Arboretum—which he helped found. The arboretum is just one of many projects he has helped develop for the community.

Phil was raised in New England but claims Chesapeake as home. As a young man in the Navy, he moved to the area and immediately fell in love with the city. It is also where he met his wife Betty. “I thought it was a special place when I came here,” he says. “I was used to the northern hustle-and-bustle life. Chesapeake was a friendly environment, and it was growing. I wanted to be a part of that.”

After leaving the Navy, Phil worked in government contracting for two years and then spent 37 years working for Xerox Corporation. Though his job required him to travel frequently, he still sought ways to volunteer.

His wife worked at Irwin’s Pharmacy in Chesapeake for many years, and Phil says Mr. Irwin took him under his wing and introduced him around the community, which helped him get to know the local people and organizations. Community service was an important part of Phil’s upbringing so it was natural for him to look for ways to get involved around the city.

“I was always told to leave something better than when you got there,” Phil explains. “I wanted to leave something for my children and grandchildren.”

Through the years he has been a part of organizations that were instrumental in bringing new developments to Chesapeake. As part of the Chesapeake Industrial Authority he recommended plans for building the Chesapeake Conference Center. As president of Chesapeake Care free clinic’s board of directors he helped the clinic expand its existing dental facility and add an educational wing last year. He also helped add a Healing Trail featuring flowers that bloom year-round for patients, staff and volunteers to enjoy.

As a former chairman of the Chesapeake Veterans Committee he helped developed plans for a Veterans Memorial at City Hall. Through the Chesapeake Chamber of Commerce, he was part of the group that built Fun Forest at Chesapeake City Park, and while serving with the National Maritime Center Foundation at Nauticus, he was part of a group of citizens who recommended the U.S.S. Wisconsin be moored in Norfolk as a museum.

But Phil is quick to give credit to others when asked about these endeavors. “I was just part of the team,” he says. “I don’t do anything alone. I can’t do anything alone; I learned that years ago.”

His latest endeavor is Urban Forest Trailblazers, a group he recently formed with two friends. The trio designs urban trails throughout the city and in multiple states. In addition to creating natural settings for citizens to enjoy, the work allows him to pursue one of his greatest passions—trees.

“My wife doesn’t like it, but every now and then you’ll find me up a tree,” Phil quips, “and I’m there on purpose!” In his free time he uses wood that he salvages to build clocks, most of which he gives away as gifts or donates for charities to sell.

Many of the organizations in which he serves also provide scholarships to local students – more than 40 each year. “I think it’s important to allow our young people to get an affordable education so they can continue to make this a wonderful city and country,” he explains.

Phil’s own children were not only raised in Chesapeake, but they stayed here to begin their families. Phil’s two daughters, son, and grandchildren all live within five miles of he and his wife, and the couple is looking forward to becoming great grandparents later this month.

“I am excited about having another generation to help coach, love and hopefully nudge in the direction of helping others,” Phil says.

It’s just another part of the legacy he hopes to leave for a city that has grown and changed along with him through the years. “When I moved here Chesapeake was a new city; it was only five years old,” he recalls. “My wife and I like to think we helped make it a little better. We like to think we helped those who needed a little help.”

Congratulations Phil Johnson on being named Citizen of the Month.

Do you know someone who deserves to be recognized for their good works? The Citizen welcomes your recommendations for Citizen of the Month. Help us honor outstanding people in our community who are making a difference in our city—and our world. Email your nominations to:

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One Response to Citizen of the Month: Phil Johnson

  1. Jackie Hopkins Reply

    March 28, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Congratulations to Citizen of the Month, Phil Johnson. I am so proud to say I have had the pleasure of knowing Phil for about 15 years now. He is exactly as you describe him. I don’t care if I see him here at the Chesapeake Conference Center, the neighborhood pharmacy or just in passing, Phil makes it a point to greet you with that awesome smile and wish you a great day!! Kudos Phil, you deserve it!!!

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