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Former Spectator advisor, William Johnson passed away due to cancer last Saturday

Some will debate what makes a great teacher, advisor or mentor, but these titles are one in the same and best represent who Instructor William Johnson was to many of his students.

William Bryant Johnson was born Nov. 9, 1942 and passed away Saturday morning, Oct. 30 in the privacy of his home after a long fight with cancer.

Johnson began his career as a mass communications instructor at Chabot College and advisor to the Chabot Spectator in 1989.

After 20 years of instruction and continuous commitment to his students, he retired from teaching and advising the Spectator last fall due to declining health.

“It was a commitment to make it a respectable student production,” said Johnson in an interview last December.

“I’m going to miss Mr. Johnson. Sure he was tough on us sometimes, but I realize that he made those of us who care about the paper put in our best effort (and sometimes scared off those who didn’t care enough). Working on the Spectator has made me a better writer and a better student, and I know it’s all thanks to Mr. Johnson’s tough love,” said former student Chris Stott.

When asked about how they felt about their advisor, former and current students had much to say. Chris Nguyen, former Chabot Spectator Scene Editor, said Johnson was “someone so knowledgeable and passionate about good old-fashioned journalism.”

This reigns true in that he has helped lead the staff of the Spectator to great success at the Journalism Association of Community Colleges conferences annually.

Last fall term this newspaper won 12 mail-in awards which included General Excellence and one on-the-spot award for News Writing. Most of this success can be attributed to the leadership of Johnson.

“I feel very fortunate to [have been] in several classes taught by Mr. Johnson. I think he’s one of the people I have to truly thank and give credibility to where I am headed in the future, school-wise and career-wise,” wrote Carmen Shiu.

Some have even said that Johnson put his students and the paper first and personal life second. This might be due to the relationship he had with each and every one of his students.

In an interview last December, according to Johnson’s wife Michelle Sherry, Early Childhood Development instructor, “Bill never had children of his own … you [were] all his ‘kids’ and he [was] very invested in you succeeding in your endeavors ….”

Johnson’s love for his students was like that of a parent, as he said, “I am more proud of what the Spectator has done than my own awards … the journalism students at Chabot … have won over 100 awards.”

Before Johnson was this proud parent he spent some time as an active journalist himself. Johnson’s endeavors included an active involvement in the civil rights movement when he took a journey to the University of Mississippi to interview James Meredith.

“I was a junior in college and it was the year 1962 that James Meredith attempted to enroll in the University of Mississippi and on a rather obsessive impulse I found another guy and we drove all night to the university after a riot killed two people after James Meredith tried to get into the university. I took it upon myself to write about it. I even snuck into a class with Meredith who sat along the wall and no white student would sit within two rows of him,” said Johnson.

Johnson is no stranger to controversy. He has been to Cuba three times despite the United States embargo.

More recently Johnson traveled with three other instructors to do an educational research project in March 2009.

Johnson has traveled for education before, spending a year and a half in China teaching at Funan and Nan Jing Universities fall 1995 through winter 1996.

“I was a FulBright Scholar, awarded by the U.S. government to teach abroad. It was very foreign and very strange and eye opening. It was a huge struggle to learn as much as I could about the culture,” said Johnson.

In lieu of Johnson’s death students have lost someone dedicated to the world of journalism and education. Anyone interested in journalism was wise to seek out Johnson.

Sherry wrote, “I only [knew] Bill for [8] years … he lived and breathed journalism and his ‘kids.’”

Whether Johnson was working on the newspaper or traveling the world he caught the eyes and ears of those around him.

Colleague Arlene DeLeon wrote, “I’ve always had great respect and admiration for Bill. His enthusiasm for his field and his students [was] awe inspiring. Bill had enormous energy, but in his personal life, too, he was always looking for the next big mountain to climb or peak to experience. Bill always seemed to know how to live life fully.”

To share your thoughts on how Mr. Johnson changed your life or helped you as a mass communications student send an e-mail to chabotspectator@gmail.com.

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To read the thoughts of those who knew Mr. Johnson best, click here.

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