Howard A. Johnson, 88, passed away peacefully on Saturday, May 7, 2016, in Wilmington. He was born in Des Moines, Iowa, on November 8, 1927.
Toward the end of World War II, he joined the U.S. Navy and traveled by train to California, and then by ship to Hawaii. Upon return to Iowa, he graduated from Iowa State with a degree in mechanical engineering and also met the love of his life, Margaret Spargur. Margaret challenged Howard to jump off the 15-meter tower at the pool, where he was a life guard. They both jumped, holding hands and began a lifetime of love and adventure.
After graduation, they loaded all their possessions (camping gear and clothes) into the back of a Chevy Club Coupe and drove to Long Beach, Calif., for his new job at McDonnell Douglas Aircraft. Margaret’s dog, Sherry, was flown out shortly after. Sherry was the first of a long line of wonderful dogs of various breeds and personalities.
Howard enjoyed designing the fuselages of aircraft and saw many changes in his 30 years with the company, which was eventually bought out by Boeing. He was in on the design of the DC-10 and enjoyed walking out to the shop and the wind tunnel to see how construction was going. At lunch, he frequently ate a sandwich under the runway to watch the planes take off and land. After reading ‘No Easy Day,’ he was proud to say that he designed part of the C-17 that delivered the Navy Seals to their target, Osama Bin Laden.
Howard was the rock and cornerstone upon which his family was supported. He worked many long hours to provide a wonderful life for all. He was always calm and steady, a perfect foil for Margaret’s outgoing, creative, welcoming and adventurous personality. She created a beautiful, vibrant environment, he made it all possible. The house was always full of life and everyone was always welcome. They both did everything possible to ensure all the children had the best possible opportunity in life to succeed. His legacy are the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren spread across the country, all making positive contributions to their communities, each in a unique and significant way.
The life in California was filled with trips to the beach, camping in the mountains, skiing and sailing to Catalina. He would load up the family of six with a couple dozen donuts and a thermos of coffee onto a 20-foot sailboat early in the morning. Armed with a compass and a chart, we would end up anchored in the afternoon, at what was then, an unspoiled Isthmus or Avalon. On one trip, a killer whale dove under the boat during the crossing. We had a brick patio and basketball court in the backyard that all the kids participated in building and peach trees loaded with fruit.
At retirement (age 62), Howard stood on a corner in LA and handed out all of his business suits, ties and shoes to people who needed them, and then he and Margaret boarded a plane bound for Kona, Hawaii. Howard and his son, Keith, proceeded to design his dream home on a coffee table in a hotel, and then built it. This home became a beautiful reality with a large lanai and fruit trees in the yard and room down stairs for all who wanted to visit. They both were active in the community and volunteered with the local Catholic church. They often swam in the beautiful harbor at Kailua. Howard took up competitive running and swimming and participated in many local races, frequently winning his age group. They lived in Hawaii for 20 years.
When the continuous volcano eruptions on Kona affected the air quality, Howard and Margaret moved to North Carolina to live with their daughter in 2011. They enjoyed walks in the woods, watching sports on T.V. and visiting with family who flew out to visit. Howard always maintained a positive attitude, cheerful, calm demeanor and can-do spirit. He was always facing forward; an inspiration to all. He will be missed. Howard passed away peacefully at Lower Cape Fear Hospice LifeCareCenter, and we are all forever grateful for their kindness during this time.
He is survived by four children and many wonderful grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held in Kona at a later date.
Howard’s family wishes to offer a special thanks to Lower Cape Fear Hospice people, New Hanover Regional Medical Center personnel, Azalea Health and Rehab Center personnel, Wilmington Health, Olivia Gooden, Kim Rice, Donna Washington and Kim Mitchell.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to a charity of individual choice.
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