Johnson ‘just lived by example’

Published 10:07 pm Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Women didn’t often start, own or operate their own businesses in the 1960s, but Anna Jett Johnson, who died last week at the age of 84, was a different breed.



Born in Fredericksburg and raised “dirt poor” in Stafford County, according to her son, Tim Johnson, Anna Mae Jett moved to Suffolk as an 18-year-old in the early ’50s to attend Obici School of Nursing. She graduated in the school’s first class and met her husband, Raymond O. Johnson Sr., at a bonfire.

They married in 1952 and had five children by 1965. To keep their large family busy, they established a roadside market on Holland Road that sold produce, peanuts, hams and pumpkins. By 1961, it had expanded to include fresh flowers and become Johnson Clements Florist.

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Mr. Clements soon left the business, and Raymond needed some extra help. Anna left nursing to help her husband in the family business.

“It just fell in Mom’s lap, and lo and behold, she became a florist,” Tim Johnson said.

The entire family learned from her work ethic, her kindness and her matter-of-fact, no-nonsense manner.

“She would never lecture us. She always just lived by example,” said Jamie Johnson, one of her grandchildren. “She taught us how to be good people, because that’s how she led her life.”

Anna never minded the work and continued working in the business into her 70s.

“Florist is hard work, but she never minded it,” Tim Johnson said. “She worked all the time, it seems like. I learned everything from her as far as the business goes. She gave us the work ethic that we have.”

Jamie Johnson recalled how his grandmother dealt with problems as quickly and efficiently as possible. All of the grandchildren hung around the business at one time or another, and Anna didn’t have time for issues — including loose teeth.

Whenever a grandchild would mention a loose tooth, Anna would reassuringly say, “Let me just have a look at that tooth.” The older grandchildren knew what was coming: Their grandmother would snatch the tooth out in one swift motion and move on with her day.

“It was a mistake made only once by each Johnson child,” Jamie Johnson said. “This was because none of them warned the others. They knew that allowing the rite of passage was as much an ode to their grandma as it was a badge of honor for the toothless recipient. None of us knew it then, but she was teaching us a lesson that each of us still recount. She taught the Johnson family as well as the multitude of Johnson’s employees over the years to work diligently, solve problems quickly and always put the customer first.”

Tim Johnson said she was the backbone of the business for decades, even as she spent many hours chatting with customers who came into the shop.

“For a business to go that long and still be viable today, it’s pretty remarkable,” he said.

Johnson compared his mother’s hard work to the way she shaped her family.

“The woman was always pruning,” he said. “When you prune things, you make them better. And that’s what she did to us.”

Johnson is survived by five siblings, five children, 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

A celebration of life for Johnson was held Monday at Bethlehem Christian Church, and she was buried in the church cemetery.

The family requested memorial contributions to The Broken Oar Foundation, which was established in memory of her grandson, Thomas J. O’Connor IV. Its proceeds help local Boy Scout troops. Contributions can be addressed to 3201 Holland Road, Suffolk, VA 23434.