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In schools and church, she worked 'full speed'

And family was no different. Every Sunday, Mrs. Johnson insisted the family gather at La Teresita. It's in her will.

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 21, 2003

Pauline Love Johnson

* * *

SEMINOLE HEIGHTS -- The Johnson family will gather again at La Teresita for lunch this weekend and they'll take their usual window table.

But this gathering will be different. The family will go to the restaurant straight from a memorial service for Pauline Love Johnson, who died Feb. 13 at age 101.

"She was the matriarch of the family," said her son, Tampa lawyer and former state attorney Paul B. Johnson. "She liked the family to get together every Sunday at La Teresita, and at Latam's before that. She'd sort of preside over it."

The family gatherings were so important to Mrs. Johnson that she even included them in her will.

"She insisted that the family get together at La Teresita and have a luncheon in her honor right after the memorial service," her son said.

Mrs. Johnson grew up on her family's orange grove in Citrus County and lived in Seminole Heights for most of her life.

At age 18, she became principal of a two-teacher school in Citrus County. Later, she taught in Mulberry and at V.M. Ybor Elementary in Tampa.

Mrs. Johnson started a family when she was in her 20s. She and husband Harry P. Johnson had two sons, Paul and H. Eugene Johnson, a retired Tampa attorney.

Although her career as a teacher was a short one, Mrs. Johnson was active in education for most of her life.

She was president of the PTA at all three public schools her sons attended (Broward Elementary, Memorial Junior High and Hillsborough High) and served as first vice president of the state PTA.

That kind of involvement was typical of Mrs. Johnson, her son Paul said.

She was devoted to her family and to education, and she never did anything half-way.

"She was a very unusual lady," he said. "Anything she did, she did it at full-speed."

It wouldn't be her style to merely join the PTA and attend meetings. She went to her sons' schools and served lunch -- which in those days was provided by the PTA -- and quickly rose to leadership positions in the organization.

She approached her church with that same kind of enthusiasm. She was the only woman on the board of the Northside Christian Church (now Central Christian Church) and was president of the church's Women's Council.

In 1948, she joined the First Christian Church, which is now in Hyde Park and was president of the Christian Women's Fellowship.

"She was quite a Bible scholar, and a great teacher," her son said. "She taught Bible study and Sunday school. She even filled the pulpit at several churches, at a time when women didn't do that very often."

Part of Mrs. Johnson's legacy is the Clothes Closet, a charitable function of Church Women United. Mrs. Johnson helped found the local CWU chapter and the Clothes Closet, which collects clothes from local churches and gives them to needy people.

"She was a brick of our organization," said fellow member Lita Swindle.

But Mrs. Johnson's priority was always her family. At the time of her death, besides her two sons, she had eight grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

Every Sunday, many of those family members gathered together at La Teresita. And almost all of them were there in July 2001 to celebrate Mrs. Johnson's 100th birthday.

"She was in pretty good health until she was about 100," Paul Johnson said. "She was always aware of what was going on in the community and the country, and she'd let you know what she thought."

Mrs. Johnson had a stroke just after her 101st birthday last year, and never fully recovered. She spent her last months in a nursing home on 21st Avenue.

And though she won't be at her usual La Teresita table this weekend, she'll always have a presence in her sons' lives.

"She was very encouraging with us boys," Paul Johnson said. "She always told us we could do anything we wanted if we put our minds to it. She gave us the confidence to excel, because she excelled in everything she did."

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