The Living Histories of Athens: Dr. Gene Johnson

Dr. Johnson was born in January of 1953 in a small cotton mill town just outside of Atlanta.

Shortly before he was born, his father, who was a soldier in World War II, sadly passed away in the line of duty in Decatur, Georgia. He was raised by his mother in Covington, Georgia.

Dr. Johnson spent his childhood singing in church and working in the cotton mill. He graduated from high school in 1970 and shortly after married his high school sweetheart. When his wife got pregnant with their daughter at 24, Dr. Johnson was elated. However, following the birth of his daughter, his wife suddenly passed away. It was determined she died of hepatitis likely from unsterilized medical equipment used during her daughter’s delivery. The death of his wife was almost unbearable and instilled so much pain into Dr. Johnson. However, he promised himself he’d never give up.

He went to college and pursued a major in Computer Science. Excelling in this area, he received his Ph.D. in Computer Science and graduated in 1981. Throughout college, he would make and play music at night, which was his ultimate passion. He would make around $50 a night doing what he loved.

His music career took off when an agent discovered his talents and gave him the opportunities of a lifetime. Dr. Johnson has traveled and played with some of the most iconic musicians of our time including Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, and Ronnie Milsap. He also reminisced on meeting icons George Jones, Kenny Rogers, and several others. At the same time, he was pursuing a music career, he also landed a stable job in cable television, which is what ultimately brought him to Athens, GA.

Although music was what he loved to do, at a young age Dr. Johnson experienced an incredibly surprising heart attack. Relating to me he did not do drugs, only drank in moderation, and was not overweight, the heart attack was a shock. He attempted to keep on living the way he was living, but after a second heart attack, it was clear he needed to slow down.

In the mid-1990s, he opened up a technologically based business in Athens, Georgia specializing in consumer electronic and cell phone repair and decided to put music on the back-burner.

As an aging individual, COVID-19 has been difficult and overwhelming for Dr. Johnson.  Saying the virus was appalling and shocking at first, he believes COVID-19 has dramatically affected the way humans live their lives. While at times it has been depressing for Dr. Johnson to not have much company and interaction, he says his love for music, peace, and freedom gave him the strength to hope for a better day. “Music is feelings about everything we live in our world,” he said to me. He believes music touches each person uniquely and has the ability to create a better world.

Dr. Johnson shared his thoughts on varying topics:

About life: 

“It all starts at home, and the way you are raised.”

“There’s life and there’s death. Nothing lasts forever.”

“ I don’t dwell, I want to live my life.”

“Life is love, companionship, and partnership.”

“I never say goodbye, I say later.”

“Never give up.”

About death:

“I want to go to a place full of love. With all the animals, babies, elderly.”

“I cannot dwell on the fact that I may die tomorrow. I have to live and experience each day.”

About music: 

“Music is feelings about everything that we live in our world.”

“Not one genre, the way you feel it, the way you say it, and the way you touch people with your imagination.”

“Music is the persuasion and brush of life.”

“Depending on the music and their life, music helps people overcome something and build something new.”

About ACCA:

“Without the ACCA, I don’t know where I would be today.”

“They (ACCA) have saved my life.”

“They have provided me with the strength to look forward to every day.”

“Makes me feel like someone cares about me.”

“Fantastic, warm, loving, caring people.”

“Never experienced such a versatile group. [They] show the feelings within themselves. I get real feelings and real relationships from staff and faculty.

“They are the spring that has made me feel alive.”

– Interviewed by Bridget Hale

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