Former Jefferson County commissioner dies

Community remembers his impact as a leader

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Former Jefferson County commissioner Phil Johnson died Jan. 8 after he suffered from Parkinson’s disease for several years. He was 72.

Born and raised in Port Townsend, Johnson served three terms as a county commissioner for District 1. Before he was elected, he was known for buying and renovating the Rose Theatre as well as other downtown Port Townsend buildings.

Johnson also was a champion of the environment and nature lover.

“I’d like to pay a brief tribute to this remarkable man, who was raised on a small farm immediately north of the county fair,” John Austin, who worked alongside Johnson as a county commissioner, said during the Jan. 7 county commissioners meeting. “He threw himself into life as a fisherman … knowing that he would love the adventure. He spent much of the rest of his life protecting the environment.”

Johnson worked for a time at the Port Townsend Paper Corp., but he entered the political fray in 2004 and beat incumbent Republican Dan Titterness, taking 59 percent of the vote.

County Commissioner David Sullivan, a Democrat who came into office alongside Johnson, frequently has pointed out that Johnson is the only commission candidate to receive more than 10,000 votes, and “he's done that twice,” Sullivan said in 2012.

“I served with Phil Johnson for 12 years,” Sullivan said during the commission meeting Jan. 7. “I always felt like we had each other’s back, and we could go out and advocate for issues knowing that. It’s a very emotional time.”

After serving three terms, Johnson decided not to run again in 2016.

In addition to his political career, Johnson was known as a poet.

“In recent visits he read to me some of his poetry,” Austin said. “It’s excellent, evocative poetry that tells of this young man and his observations of the world and the county that he loved.”

For a more complete story about Johnson’s life and accomplishments, see the Jan. 16 print edition of the Port Townsend & Jefferson County Leader.

In the video below, hear Phil Johnson speak about the importance of the Salish Sea. 

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