Hundreds pay respects to Tom Johnston at service
The impact former Forest Grove City Council President Tom "TJ" Johnston had on his community was on full display on Monday, Oct. 28, as hundreds of community members gathered for his funeral service in Verboort.
Two weeks ago, Johnston died of acute myeloid leukemia after a several-months-long battle with the illness.
On Monday, family members, friends, community leaders, government officials, police officers and firefighters filled the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church for Johnston's funeral mass.
The showing from the community was a testament to the number of people Johnston touched during a lifetime of public service, said his widow, Raean Johnston.
Johnston, who was 73, was a longtime resident of Washington County. He grew up in the Gales Creek area and graduated from Forest Grove High School in 1964.
He served as a reserve police officer and volunteer firefighter in Forest Grove, and then he was hired as a full-time patrolman in 1971 after graduating from Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton with an associate's degree in police science.
Including his time as a reserve officer in both Forest Grove and Pendleton, Johnston served as a police officer for more than 30 years, retiring on July 12, 2001, after serving as a sergeant for nearly 20 years. After his retirement, Johnston worked as an attendance monitor at Forest Grove High School.
Johnston was elected to the Forest Grove City Council in 2002. He served as a city councilor for 17 years and was council president since 2009.
His public service went beyond the City Council as well. TJ was active in the League of Oregon Cities, having served on numerous committees. He was a charter member of the Forest Grove Elks Lodge B.P.O.E. #2440 and served as the District Deputy Grand Exalted Ruler. He also represented the city's interests as a board member on the Washington County Consolidated Communications Agency for over a decade. He was appointed by the governor to work on the State Interoperability Executive Council, which facilitates coordinated emergency communications across Oregon.
View more photos from Tom Johnston's memorial service, as captured by photographer Christopher Oertell Monday, Oct. 28.
After Monday's service, Raean Johnston encountered a continuous stream of people offering their condolences and sharing stories about their time with her husband.
"Some people have a hobby, and I know his was fishing, but keeping his community together was really his interest," Raean Johnston said.
She said she hopes people will be inspired by Tom Johnston's dedication to his community. The number of people who gave their respects at the service showed that a passion for public service like Johnston's can make a difference, she said.
"I just hope this means that other people will pick up the baton and really get involved," Raean Johnston said.
The Johnstons' daughter, Lindsey Caron, said she was touched by people's comments and the support from the community.
"As special as he is to me, it has been great to hear everyone's stories about how he touched their lives," Caron said of her late father. "Many people I haven't seen in a long time but they're people who were a part of his life when I was little. He helped everybody with anything around town."
She said she looks forward to being able to share Tom Johnston's legacy and his importance to the community with her children when they get older.
For the last two weeks, Forest Grove officials have been remembering Johnston as an irreplaceable part of the city's operations.
Police Capt. Mike Hall said when Hall was hired at the Forest Grove Police Department in 1996, Johnston was the age Hall is now. Hall said he worked a lot of graveyard shifts with Johnston, and during those nights, he always had an entertaining story to tell about the city.
The thing Hall remembers most was Johnston's knowledge of the community.
"He knew everybody," Hall said. "We couldn't go on a call where he didn't know somebody. I came from Portland, so this was a whole new world to me.
"It was a valuable thing," Hall said about Johnston's understanding of the community. "It took me years to realize that."
Forest Grove Police Chief Janie Schutz said although she never had the opportunity to work with Johnston while he was at the department, she knew him through his work on the City Council. She said anyone who serves in law enforcement should be recognized for their willingness to take on the burden of the work, especially when someone does it as long as Johnston did.
"Police work is not only demanding on a daily basis, but officers see things during their service years that no human being should have to see or have to deal with," Schutz said. "Tom Johnston was the consummate professional just for the mere fact that he cared enough to want to give back to the community that he lived in. I personally believe that the value of our lives will always be judged, in the end, by our willingness to always make the effort to care enough to act. That was Tom Johnston."
Forest Grove City Manager Jesse VanderZanden said as the person tasked with enacting the wishes of the City Council, he valued Johnston's ability to put issues into perspective using his historical knowledge of the city.
"He was very thoughtful, always seeing something from a different angle, assuring a complete picture before making a decision," VanderZanden said. "Tom was from and of Forest Grove, always having the best interests of the city come first. We will miss him and his contributions."
At the service on Monday, Johnston's longtime friend and colleague Pete Truax, mayor of Forest Grove, gave his eulogy.
During the eulogy, Truax told the story of how Tom and Raean Johnston met and got married in 1977.
"I considered myself very lucky because, like all of us, when you became friends with TJ, you also got Raean in the bargain," Truax said. "And you also got by extension, the kids, Matt, Sara and Lindsey, the spouses, Mike and Andy, and the six grandchildren. He loved his kids, but he absolutely adored those grandchildren, Riley, Nolan, Malia, Quinn, Rowan and Ava. We didn't survive a single old guys' coffee time with him without him bringing up one or a combination of the six."
In an interview, Truax said while he and Johnston sometimes had differing opinions on the City Council, Johnston always respected people enough to give them his honest perspective.
Johnston's full commitment to bettering his community was known to people across the state, Truax said.
"As the mayor of Forest Grove, I get comments from other mayors and other city officials throughout Oregon," he said. "They've been calling me and emailing me and asking me when the service is and sending their condolences, because they also knew TJ. He touched a lot of people in Forest Grove, but he also touched a lot of people in the state of Oregon. He was a good, good man. He was a person who tried to do good in the best light that he saw it."
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