You have to be intrigued by a guy who brings a guitar to a Christmas party and sings — the Wabash Cannonball?
Yup, Roger Johnson loved that song and plenty of other music. He was first chair in violin in high school and named his daughter, Amy, after his violin teacher. He also loved Rhapsody in Blue, which was played at his memorial service on Sunday.
I only met Roger one time but his youngest son, Chris Johnson, is Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams’ executive assistant, so I heard plenty about the man whom attorney Brian McConaty eulogized Sunday as a “larger than life character.”
Johnson was a doctor and a lawyer who was proud to have started the Knife and Gun Club at Denver General when he was in the ER. He and his wife Gail Laxalt Johnson dined at the White House with President Reagan. Johnson shared his prize-winning tomatoes with everyone.
“The term ‘Renaissance Man’ is perhaps overused these days but never more accurately applied than to Roger,” McConaty said during the service.
Roger Johnson was born Oct. 23, 1928, and died May 29, 2018. He was 89. He is survived by his wife and seven children he loved to talk about. (Here is his obituary.)
Johnson attended Northwestern University where his roommate was Coloradan Gaspar Perricone, the star running back for the team when the Wildcats won the Rose Bowl in 1949 . Perricone invited Johnson to Colorado for a visit and that was it. Colorado is where Johnson wanted to live.
Johnson and Perricone were avid skiers. To pay for their lift tickets, they would play guitar and sing at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen. Both men graduated from the University of Denver School of Law and went into the Army.
Perricone went on to become a District Court judge in Colorado. Johnson went on to earn his medical degree at the University of Colorado.
“He would go to medical school during the day and then do the legal briefing work … in the evening with some court people complaining that he smelled like formaldehyde from his Anatomy Lab,” McConaty said.
Johnson practiced emergency medicine for more than 20 years at Denver General during the night shift and then practiced law during the day.
“Roger Frank Johnson was a hero to his wife, family and friends. For all his many accomplishments, he remained a humanist, interested in so many pursuits, all of which he mastered,” McConaty said. “However, he would consider his wife and children as his greatest accomplishment. He will live on through them.
McConaty closed his remarks by noting that one of the lyrics to Wabash Cannonball was, “His earthly race is over.”
“Picture Roger melodically strumming his guitar and singing his farewell to us,” McConaty said, as the song started.