Rudy Johnson was a teacher, principal, Everett School District superintendent and Skagit County’s United Way director.
Not bad for a two-time high school dropout.
Rudy Johnson died June 3 at his home in California. He was 82. The cause of death is undetermined.
He had just finished clipping roses from his yard and was reading the morning newspaper when he died at the kitchen table, according to family members. The day before, he went golfing and birdied two holes.
Johnson’s own troubles in high school gave him a unique perspective as a school leader later in life, said Larry Johnson, Rudy’s son. He could see potential in people and wanted to help all kids, regardless of their background, he said.
Johnson wasn’t enjoying high school the first time he dropped out; the second time he joined the military during World War II.
“He always had empathy for kids who were having trouble and worked pretty hard to see to it that programs were in place to help them,” said Paul Sjunnesen, who was an assistant superintendent for Johnson before replacing him.
Johnson was superintendent of the Everett School District from 1976 until he retired in 1987. It is one of the longest tenures for a superintendent in the district’s history.
“I have never been around any educator in my life who had so many good ideas,” Sjunnesen said.
Born in 1926 to Scandinavian immigrants, Rudy Perry Johnson attended schools in Anacortes and Mount Vernon. He served in the Navy during World War II before enrolling at Skagit Valley College where he played football.
He went on to Western Washington University where he earned his bachelor’s degree in education. He would later earn master and doctorate degrees in education.
He spent 40 years as an educator in Washington and Oregon, climbing the ranks from teacher to principal to superintendent.
Johnson often brought a personal touch to his job. He started the Everett district’s superintendent scholarship program with money from his own pocket. He also planted a rose garden at school district headquarters that remains there today.
“He was in constant motion when we were growing up,” Larry Johnson said. “People were amazed with him as a person, but you ought to try living with him. He was an inspiration, a guy who believed you could do anything.”
Larry Johnson said he followed in his dad’s footsteps as a teacher, principal and now as superintendent of the Darrington School District.
“I really leaned on my dad for counsel, mentorship, advice,” he said. “We were in contact almost daily until the end.”
A reception in Johnson’s honor is set for 2 p.m. Sunday at St. Joseph Center in Mount Vernon.
Donations in Johnson’s memory can be made to the Everett Public Schools Foundation or to United Way.
Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.