Dec. 5, 1943 - Mar. 21, 2013
Resident of Santa Cruz
With the recent passing of Paul Johnson, Santa Cruz has lost a talented, dedicated, and passionate advocate for progressive causes. Known as a problem solver, mediator, and dragonfly lover, he sought throughout his life to promote compassion and social justice. He died peacefully at home, lovingly cared for by devoted family and friends. We will all dearly miss him.
Paul was a native of southern California, where he attended UC Riverside. Graduating with an A.B. in Mathematics, he joined the Peace Corps and spent 4 years in Nepal as a math teacher and family planning program coordinator. These were some of his happiest days, a time to which he often returned in memory. While there, he toured extensively in his off-time, traversing the countryside and trekking the Himalayas, developing a deep love of the Nepali people and a fondness for spicy Asian cuisine.
Upon returning to the States, he worked briefly at Everybody's Bookstore in Los Angeles before moving to Santa Cruz with his sweetheart, Carolyn Symonds, who would later become his wife. He joined the staff at Bookshop Santa Cruz in 1973 and managed the textbook section for 7 years. He went on to complete a second Bachelor's degree at UCSC in Computer and Information Science in 1985. He worked at Santa Cruz Operations and later at ComputerPrep, as a software trainer, trainer manager, and sales consultant.
Paul's professional work, however, was but a small fraction of his overall activities. Admonished from his youngest days to take care of his mentally challenged elder brother, he developed a deep sense of the duty to care for the less fortunate and less capable in society. Though he was often thought of as a peace activist, he saw himself as "more of a justice person." He felt quite strongly that without justice there can be no peace. To that end, he became a polyvalent and tireless adviser to many community groups, whose boards he graced with intelligence, foresight, and humor.
His early days in Santa Cruz saw him participate in the founding of the alternative newspaper Phoenix and the Neighborhood Food Coop. He was on the board of the Santa Cruz Community Credit Union for 16 years, helping to keep the focus on the organization's commitment to providing services for lower income members. He was also active in the ACLU Santa Cruz Chapter, where over the course of 15 years he served as board member, complaint line call taker, and newsletter editor.
In 1999, he took early retirement and devoted himself more fully to community service. Sage and willing giver of advice, with encyclopedic knowledge of almost everything, he was welcomed by community organizers and activists. He was recruited by the SC City Council for the San Lorenzo Urban River Plan Task Force, whose job it was to oversee the raising of the levee and its development as a public space. He served as both member and chair, continuing this work on the San Lorenzo River Committee. He described the levee project as among his most difficult and satisfying.
As a long-time feminist and supporter of many women's causes, Paul was proud to have been twice made an Honorary Woman, first by the group Women as Allies and later by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. He served on WILPF's council from 1993 to 2011, was Treasurer for seven years and edited the group's newsletter, the Undaunted Dove, for three years.
Other activities include his work with the Jane Addams Peace Association Board of Directors, 2008-2011, Treasurer; Santa Cruz County Prostate Cancer Support Group, 2005-2011, webmaster. He also participated over several years in the formation of the Alliance for Human Rights in Santa Cruz County. Paul joined the Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County in 2006 and served for five years, including time as Treasurer and Chair. It was one of his last commitments, given up only as what he liked to call his cancer dance began to take up more of his energies.
Paul was also an early and committed supporter of the Homeless Garden Project, again serving as board member and chair, as well as donor and fond purchaser of lovely Garden wreaths and succulents.
Twice a widower, Paul nursed both of his wives through their final illnesses. Paul's first wife, Carolyn Symonds, died in 1993, after a long and valiant struggle with rheumatoid arthritis. He then became a fervent advocate for health care and was chair of the Campaign for Single Payer Health Care, and a founding board member of both Health Care for All - California and Health Care for All - Santa Cruz. It was in this activity that he met and married his second wife, Jeanette Hines, a retired professor of nursing who had been a pioneer in obstetric care and teaching. Their mutual desire to see a more just and rational health care system in the US sparked a deep love between them, and they lived together from 1995 until Jeanette's death in 2010.
Every ten years Paul quit all community activity and took off on his BMW motorcycle, visiting family and Peace Corps friends around the country. He was a true motorcycle enthusiast, and remained a committed and careful rider, logging over 360,000 miles. His last trip had been planned for September of 2012, and was not abandoned until his prostate cancer metastases closed off that option in late August.
In his later years, he became a donor to the Cabrillo Music Festival and volunteered joyfully for the breakfast crew. He also contributed and subscribed to the SC Symphony, the New Music Works, and the SC Chamber Players. He was thrilled to have sponsored a violin concert by the Chamber Players this year.
Many people who did not know Paul personally knew him as the guy who wore colorful clothes. His brilliantly colored wardrobe belied his gentle and self-effacing manner and included a vivid selection of Hawaiian and Guatemalan shirts, wide-waled cords, and socks in all colors that peeked out from his sandals.
Yoga was another of his long-time commitments and pleasures. Not the most flexible as a beginner, he persisted for 20 years in his study of TriYoga, insisting all along that he was not a spiritual person, and yet glowing in his last months.
His latest and perhaps most adventuresome foray was into the world of poetry. Beginning as someone who knew little of the art, he wrote from the heart, honing his skills and eventually writing some very fine poems.
Paul is survived by his brother, Robert; two step-children, Donald Hines, and Antonina Hines and her partner Len Beyea; and his adopted "ohana" family: Nancy Harper, Hazel Harper, Ben Lagace, Ellie Lagace, and Jean Piraino.
Donations may be given to the Homeless Garden Project and Hospice of Santa Cruz County. A celebration of life will be held at a later date.
Published in Santa Cruz Sentinel on Mar. 29, 2013