Barbara "Barb" Johnson, a loving wife, mom and grandmother, passed away Jan. 6, 2024, at her home in Fort Worth. Her husband, Don, was by her side.
Barbara Alice Tootle Johnson was born Sept. 24, 1944, in Bradenton, Florida, to Mildred and Iron Tootle. It was rumored to be an excruciating labor. It was also a busy day at the hospital — she was born right smack in the middle of the hallway.
She was still a baby when her dad was shipped overseas to fight in World War II. So Barb and her mom packed up to stay in Mississippi with Barb’s maternal grandparents, Bessie and Bennie.
When Barb’s dad came home from the war, they stayed in Hattiesburg, and he attended Mississippi Southern College on the GI Bill. They rented a little house on the railroad tracks; Barb recalled how “the trains would scare the pajamas off of me.”
They moved frequently. Barb’s brother Terry came along in 1947.
Her mom was a schoolteacher, while her dad got his first job with Humble Oil and Refining (eventually Exxon), in Jennings, Louisiana. Then they moved to Bayou Salle, Louisiana. It was called ‘The Camp,’ she remembered. “All the people who worked there lived in row houses according to the pecking order. We were on the last row.”
Barb was a good student, but she made at least one enemy: her second-grade teacher. “She gave me a C in handwriting. I never forgave her.”
When she was 10, Barb was a busy summer camper and a voracious letter writer. On July 5, 1955, she wrote to her family: “We always have good food in the mess hall. I am not being a hog either. Sometimes I don’t eat even as much as the other girls.”
Barb danced to the jukebox at Fred’s Drive-in and watched “American Bandstand” every day. “That was our life.”
She eventually left Pleasanton and finished high school in Dallas, and that’s where she met Don Johnson, at Thomas Jefferson High School, in Texas History class. “He was never prepared,” she once reported. “He was always borrowing paper.” He asked her to the senior prom. She told him no.
Eventually things clicked. The first movie they saw together was Hatari!, starring John Wayne (probably paying about 85 cents a ticket). They got their degrees at Texas Christian University and enjoyed dates at Jimmie Dip’s.
She knew when the proposal was coming. They’d gone for a ride in Don’s car to listen to a football game. When he dashed into 7-Eleven, she burgled his glove compartment. There it was. The ring.
Barb Johnson was not known for her patience. Ever. But he already knew that. They were married May 21, 1966. Their son, Doug came along in 1969, and daughter, Dina in 1972. In addition to her kids, Elvis was there all along.
Barb and her good friend Becki attended an Elvis concert at the Tarrant County Convention Center in 1974. Somehow, they’d gleaned he was staying at the Green Oaks Inn. “So,” Barbara said, “We stalked him. It was probably my idea. We stood outside where he was supposed to come out of his room to watch him get into his limo.”
After all, she’d wept every time she’d listened to him croon “Love Me Tender” on her record player. (Her parents had apparently rolled their eyes. They were horrified that she would cry over a song.)
She and Don raised their kids in the suburbs, mostly on 1017 Mistletoe Road, and Barb was a room mom at the school. She worked for not one but two horse associations in high-level administrative roles but, in a puzzling twist, didn’t give a flying flip about anything equine related.
Barb was always on the go. Dina remembers her pulling weed after weed in the summer heat in her short shorts, running endless errands and making sock puppets with sequined eyes at Mayfest. Doug recalls rides in the Volkswagen — and Barb zipping through the gears at high speeds for Quickway burgers.
On Friday nights she turned on the 8-track cassette player and tapped her light blue-slippered feet to the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?” or listened to Steve Martin crack wise on his “Wild and Crazy Guy” album. Weekend nights were also for working lots of Springbok puzzles as a family, sealing them with newspaper and glue, then papering the game room walls.
For many years, she played bridge with a group of women Dina deemed “The Cacklers.” When they’d gather at the Johnson household, the cutting boards were piled high with gouda cheese and Vegetable Thins, and the card-shuffling and the cackling kept the kids up way past bedtime.
She wore gold shrimp earrings. Loved her Chanel No. 5. And smiled big every time you gifted her a bottle of Jean Nate after-bath splash. It should be known that she believed strongly in the healing powers of Vaseline, Bactine and Mentholatum. You could smell her coming three rooms away.
She made every holiday special. She was the perfect present wrapper and held on to antique package toppers. That alone was a miracle. Because Barbara Johnson was not a saver.
She was constantly purging and redistributing, and she was pretty insistent about it.
She frequently left things for her housekeeper to take home. There was a whole era when the kids would come over for a cookout or a holiday gathering and she would press upon them a random spatula, an avocado, half a loaf of bread, a baggie of rice and a 20% Bed Bath & Beyond coupon. She would be crushed if you declined leftovers. “Your father and I will never finish that stick of butter!,” she would scoff.
Despite this constant sharing and unloading, she did save some things. Her family recently discovered a handful of All My Children trading cards in her jewelry box. Decades before, she’d come home from work for lunch every day and cue up her favorite soap opera. If the news overrode it with something piddly and unimportant like a hostage crisis, there’d be hell to pay.
Barb and Don enjoyed traveling with young Doug and Dina and family friends; South Padre Island was a favorite destination. The station wagon would be packed with a cooler of soggy tuna fish sandwiches and, for Doug especially, a wet washcloth in a Ziploc to remove the car debris from his tube-sock covered limbs. It was a necessity. She never forgot.
Then there was the time she learned that the Holiday Inn where the family was stopping overnight was going to have the nerve to charge $40 for a room. Honestly it seemed like she was going to have to be revived with smelling salts. “That just GALLS me!” she said.
Later, when the kids became adults and the grandkids could come along, the adventures only grew.
There were lots of sleepovers with Nan and Gramps where the rules were thrown out the door (Three root beers? Sure, why not? Vegetables? Never heard of ‘em! A bedtime? Not here!) She kept a well-stocked closet full of toys — a stick horse at the ready — for any visiting grandbaby.
She believed in her grandchildren, delighted in their accomplishments and always saw the very best in them. And she was generous with her grown children, always eager to help them without a second thought.
When she slowed down, she and Don enjoyed lunches out, daily drives and legendary Scrabble games. She worked the crossword puzzle every day. Her pencils were always sharpened, her vocabulary impeccable.
Barb waved off every attempt made to get her to stop smoking. When she finally did stop, in 2005, she never got over it. All the articles said she’d eventually stop missing it; all the articles lied. She’d started in 10th grade, back when kids didn’t think twice about smoking. She learned how to smoke in the back of Margaret Bailey’s beige Bug at the lake outside of Pleasanton, Texas — a Marlboro, just so you know. Later she’d switch to Trues. Between classes, she’d smoke in the bathroom with a gaggle of girls, the haze swirling around their pleated skirts.
Many years later, she was diagnosed with COPD. It sent her to the hospital, where she would’ve been a flight risk if her back hadn’t been in such a state. She was a terrible patient. Every time a nurse came by and asked, “Can I get you anything, Mrs. Johnson?,” she’d reply: “Just my discharge papers!”
Barb is survived by her husband, Don; son, Doug and his wife, Mary and their son, Lucas; daughter, Dina and her husband, Rob and their children, Alex, Zack, Harry and Ivy; brother, Terry and his wife, Linda; niece, Kelly; nephews, Will and Taylor; and extended family and friends.
Her funeral service will be held Monday, Jan. 22nd, at 10:30 a.m. at the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, 2000 Mountain Creek Pkwy., Dallas, with a reception to follow at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden in the Azalea Room, 3220 Botanic Garden Blvd., Fort Worth. All are welcome. RSVPs texted to Dina Rogers at 214-223-5501 are greatly appreciated to help us with planning. Thank you.
Charitable donations can be made to the COPD Foundation at copdfoundation.org, mailed to COPD Foundation, 3300 Ponce De Leon Blvd., Miami, Florida, 33134 or call 866-731-2673, ext. 387.