February 06, 2005

Doug Johnson, RIP

Doug Johnson -- Lt. Col. Douglas Johnson, USAF (Retd.) -- a man who piloted B17s over Europe in WWII, flew fighters in Korea, and who later helped form the Alameda Aero Club -- died last week after a short fight with cancer. He'll be greatly missed.

Doug was for a long time the maintenance and procedures backbone of the club, and was a mentor and tutor to many of us who became pilots and instructors through the club (you can glimpse him behind the scenes here and there in my original flying diary -- Doug did a lot to encourage me and keep the planes running during that period). Doug had the sort of common sense and experience that a club like the AAC needs, and (lucky for us) over the years he ensured that most of that was passed on to others.

Doug had a sharp mind -- even in his late 70's he actively adopted things like email and the web before many of the rest of us, and he was always one of the first to understand how to use things like the new web-based scheduler effectively for the club, or how to use spreadsheets for maintenance tracking and rental rate calculations, etc. Years ago when I was the club's webmaster and helping to set up the new scheduler, I'd receive a steady trickle of email from him commenting on a particular page or suggesting a new external link or whatever (he particularly delighted in making fun of my inadvertant Britishisms).

Doug often described himself as a "redneck from backwoods Arkansas", but he was also the sort of guy who drove a small Toyota, liked the Bay Area life (while still pining for those backwoods...), and who railed publicly against the US's isolationism on Iraq (he once said he couldn't understand why the US didn't defer to the UN on Iraq -- "Wasn't the UN one of the best things that came out of WWII? Wasn't it one of the things we fought for?" -- and proceeded to wonder out loud what it would take to get Colin Powell to run for president...). He and I sometimes sparred in the club over things like tax policy or welfare (he was predictably a lot more conservative than I am), but he was always funny and friendly about it, and he was better at conceding his opponent's points than I'll ever be.

Doug was also reputedly one of the few people to actually get away with replying to a lightspeed clearance from clearance delivery at Oakland with a (very) obscene variant of the classic old "Very impressive. Now how about giving it to me at the speed at which I can write rather than the speed at which you can read?" line. When I once asked him about it a few years ago, he just grinned and said in that distinctive Arkansas voice of his: "Boy -- I ain't saying. But if that's the worst you can dig up on me, you ain't trying!".

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