Remembering Jim Johnston

March 24, 2018

Mark Schremmer

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Todd Spencer

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jim Johnston spent more than 40 years of his life fighting for the rights of truckers.

In honor of his efforts, truck drivers from across the nation reflected on the legacy created by the longtime OOIDA president and CEO during a celebration of life on Friday, March 23, at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky.

Johnston passed away on Jan. 8, at the age of 78. He served as OOIDA’s president and CEO since 1975, helping turn the grassroots effort into the largest national organization for truckers with more than 160,000 members.

Family members, OOIDA Acting President Todd Spencer, as well as many OOIDA members delivered an abundance of kind words about the kind of life Johnston lived for the Association that he helped create.

Todd Spencer, OOIDA acting president and CEO

“It isn’t a great accomplishment to just stir things up. You have to plan for afterward for how to put things back together. Mr. Johnston had a plan. He understood that if the plan was going to work, like-minded individuals had to buy into that plan. And those like-minded individuals are truck drivers.”

Karen Johnston

Karen Johnston, wife of Jim

“OOIDA, although it was one of my husband’s greatest accomplishments, does not define who my husband was. Actually, the man who my husband was defines OOIDA. His character, his compassion, his strength, his heart and his vision are what made OOIDA possible. He desired to make change and improvement. His willingness to fight. That’s who Jim was. My husband was bigger than life. He commanded every room he ever entered. He was tough but never arrogant. And he never lost sight of the mission or his vision. He was the smartest man I’ll ever know.”

Chuck Johnston, brother of Jim

“For some reason, I don’t know why, trucking got into his blood. Nobody in our family had been in trucking, but it got in his blood and it got in there hard.”

“He made a lot of sacrifices to make the Association what it is. There were a lot of times that he and Todd ran around with paychecks in their pockets, because if they cashed them they wouldn’t be able to get (Land Line) magazine out. They knew that magazine was the lifeblood of the organization.”

Woody Chambers, OOIDA Board of Directors General Vice President

“He was an impressive man, who always put the Association before himself and before his ego. I’m honored to have known him and to have served him all these years.”

George Parker, OOIDA member

“When I was going to first meet Jim, my palms got sweaty. I didn’t feel like I was meeting the president of OOIDA. I felt like I was meeting the president of the United States, so it was an honor to be able meet him and be a part of his organization. He’s laid the foundation for us to fight for the rights of truckers.”

Wendy Parker

Wendy Parker, OOIDA member

“The word hero is thrown around a lot. But very few people maintain that status for years and years. And very few people have thousands of people who call them a hero. I was a big fan girl. I was a big fan of Jim Johnston. He looked like one of those people you could always trust, and it turned out to be so. I’m very humbled and proud to be a part of this organization. Now it’s time to pick up and carry on, and I feel like it’s our job to do it.”

Rod Nofziger, OOIDA Chief Operating Officer

“Jim was incredibly proud of the people he represented. He loved talking to OOIDA members. He was truly interested in what they had to say. Jim was truly interested in what they had to say … interested in their achievements and their struggles as well.”

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.

“His whole life was trucking and independent truck drivers. He led the organization from the time it was in a trailer tied to a light post to an organization with more than 160,000 members today, and he was an incredibly effective voice for independent truck drivers in trying to deal with bureaucracy in Washington D.C. and a mostly dysfunctional Congress. He tried to get policies that made sense for you and your businesses. Jim’s voice will certainly be missed. His advocacy was extraordinary over so many years. But I know OOIDA will continue to fight with the same vigor he put into it.”

Roger Wilcox, OOIDA life member

“OOIDA is one of the few organizations that really goes to bat for truckers. They haven’t given up or rested on their laurels. They’re still fighting.”

Bob Garrett, OOIDA life member

“We wanted to pay our respects. I didn’t know Jim personally, but he was a straight shooter. He stood up for everyone.”

Norm Cearfoss, OOIDA member

“I like what OOIDA represents and knowing that if I need help, they will be there for me.”

Michael Zoll, OOIDA life member

“OOIDA is a voice for the truckers. We have to be unified. You can’t fight by yourself.”

Fred Rejman, OOIDA member

“We realized years ago that a singular effort can’t do anything. Numbers matter. OOIDA is working for us.”

Carl Smith, OOIDA life member

“Jim was a great guy. I delivered a truck to the Association once, and I need a ride back to the bus stop. There were probably 50 people at the Association who could have given me a ride, but Jim did. He was very down to earth.”

You can see more from the Celebration of life here.

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, associate editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and nearly two decades of journalism experience to our staff.

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