Truckers gather to celebrate life of OOIDA’s Jim Johnston

March 23, 2018

Mark Schremmer


Truck drivers gathered to honor longtime OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston, who passed away in January.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association members from across the nation gathered on Friday, March 23 at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., to honor the life of a man who spent more than four decades fighting for the rights of truckers.

Longtime OOIDA President and CEO Jim Johnston died on Jan. 8 at the age of 78. On Friday, truck drivers united as OOIDA hosted a celebration of life in Johnston’s honor.

In 1975, Johnston became OOIDA’s third president and helped turn it into the largest national organization for truckers with more than 160,000 members.

“He’s helped give a trucker’s voice that will sustain,” OOIDA Acting President and CEO Todd Spencer said. “It will sustain. It will keep going.

“OOIDA will always fight for the rights of the truckers. That was built into the organization from day one.”

The ceremony included a video tribute to Johnston, as well speeches from Spencer, OOIDA Chief Operating Officer Rod Nofziger, OOIDA Board of Directors General Vice President Woody Chambers, OOIDA Members George and Wendy Parker, as well as Johnston’s wife, Karen Johnston, and brother, Chuck Johnston. U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., sent a video message, and former FMCSA Administrator Scott Darling was in attendance.


“His whole life was trucking and independent truck drivers,” DeFazio said. “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. Johnston 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.”

Johnston was born in Summerfield, Mass., on July 23, 1939. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1956. He was a boilerman on four ships – two troop ships, an ammunition ship and a survey ship. After completing his military service in the U.S. Navy, Johnston entered the trucking industry as a driver and an owner-operator.

OOIDA formed in 1973, and Johnston became president two years later. Under Johnston’s leadership, OOIDA started many services and programs for drivers. Any profits go directly toward funding the fight to protect and ensure the rights of truckers.

Karen and Chuck also talked about Johnston’s life as a family man.

“OOIDA, although it was one of my husband’s greatest accomplishments, does not define who my husband was,” Karen said. “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.”

And OOIDA plans to keep Johnston’s vision moving forward.

 “The Association was set up from the beginning to fight for the rights of truckers,” Spencer said. “The early goals of the organization were largely about making things right. Probably the magic that has allowed OOIDA to last is that it’s always been about the people who it represents — the men and women behind the wheel.”

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Mark Schremmer, senior 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 more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.