Bullard - Community loses a beloved figure

Published on Thursday, 23 January 2014 22:53 - Written by By Faith Harper fharper@tylerpaper.com

The Bullard community is mourning the loss of one of its matriarchs.

Bertha Lee Johnson, 70, was a second mother to generations of children at Bullard ISD.

She was an “educator, counselor, extra mom,” her daughter, Theresa Hibbler, said. “She had a way of making everybody feel like family, and there are lots of people that we run into that say, ‘She was just like my mom.’”

The retired food service director spent 25 years making sure no child went hungry, and became a mentor to the countless children who passed through the lunch lines.

“Everybody was her kid and she treated them like she treated us,” her son, Tony Johnson, said. “The way she treated us was, I may not treat you the same, but I love you the same.”

Tony Johnson said she believed the amount of attention the children needed varied by what was going on in their lives.

Mrs. Johnson was born in Bullard in 1943, and lived her entire life in Bullard. Mrs. Johnson began her career at the school in 1975 and retired in 2000, according to school records. She died unexpectedly Tuesday, leaving behind eight biological children and 15 grandchildren.

“Mrs. Johnson always watched out for ‘her kids,’ Bullard resident Linda Stephenson said on Facebook. “When (someone) lost (their) lunch money, or just forgot it, she made sure (they) had something hot to eat in order to, in her words, ‘keep you going.’ She was a caring, amazing ‘mama’ to many kids, and she will be missed.”

Former elementary school principal Lynette Hughes said the pair were friends long before they worked together, and the entire community lost a “dear loved one.”

“Often little ones would sit on my church pew outside my office door “waiting to see Ms. Hughes” for some reason — maybe just a talk or sometimes maybe (for) the paddle,” she posted on Facebook. “I loved it when I would walk out and on occasion Bertha might be on the pew with them in deep conversation. Now, the way I viewed this was, ‘Hey, she raised eight awesome kids. She knows her stuff.’”

Mrs. Hughes said Mrs. Johnson made a huge impact on the town’s youth outside the classroom.

“Bertha Johnson did not need a certificate to be an educator …” she said. “Bertha loved our kids … (and) will be remembered and missed by many people.”

That love went beyond the school walls, and she opened the family’s home to children who needed a place to stay and her own pocketbook to help meet their needs, the family said. She often appeared at banquets, plays and sporting events to support students, and was placed on the school BISD’s Wall of Honor in 2012 for her contributions to the district’s youth.

In her time away from school, Mrs. Johnson was a deaconess and member of the ministry program and choir at Corinth Baptist Church in Bullard.

“Her and my dad’s faith is what guided every decision, and every ounce of love in her heart came from her belief in the Lord,” Ms. Hibbler said.

She also had a love for gardening and served as the treasurer and past president of the East Texas Farmer’s Market.

The family will receive friends tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. at Corinth Baptist Church, 2948 Farm-to-Market Road 346 North. Her visitation is also today from noon to 8 p.m. at Community Funeral Home in Tyler, 1429 N. Border Ave. The funeral is 1 p.m. Saturday at Corinth Baptist with her son Rev. Kevin O. Johnson presiding. The funeral is open to the public.

The Johnson family said the outpouring of love, support and kind words from the community is deeply appreciated.

“The way that people in the community can honor her most is to love someone the way she loved them and pay it forward,” Ms. Hibbler said.