It seems to me that we have a void, an emptiness, hereabouts with the recent death of George T. Johnson.
You see, he was a true gentleman — a rarity in today’s society. That one word description of this man as a “gentleman” just popped out of my mouth spontaneously as I was talking with his family members at the visitation before his funeral. Since then, I have been thinking of how appropriate this instinctive characterization, this impromptu portrait, of him really is.
According to several sources, a “gentleman” in England, where the term originated, meant “A man of gentle but not noble birth occupying a high social position, and particularly a man of means (originally ownership of property) who does not work for a living but has no official status, such as Duke, in a peerage.”
Well, that definition sure didn’t appear appropriate for our society nor did the qualifiers of wealth and power — we are constantly reminded that money and power do not buy what is commonly known as “class.” However, in researching for a suitable definition I came across an undated “Final Touch” blog, “Ten qualities of a modern gentleman” which provided a very helpful background for these comments.
To begin with, being a gentleman is a matter of choice — his choosing to invest in traits such as honesty and honor. Accordingly, he is not rigid, arrogant, artificial, or concentrated on himself but is concerned about how his actions effect others. As a person of integrity, a gentleman always does the right thing regardless of the circumstances. How about that for a thumbnail sketch of a gentleman?
OK with that in mind, let’s move on to George T. Johnson. I don’t know why he was known to his friends by his initials “GT,” and don’t recall how long I knew him — I’m guessing it was well over 20 years. Anyway, I knew him through two venues: the YMCA we both frequented for exercise; and our church where we were active members. Regardless of the setting, however, time with him always made my day better. Perhaps that was because he was so generous with his time, knowledge, and appropriate help — a characteristic of a gentleman. Then, too, he was always positive — another characteristic of a gentleman — with his confidence being contagious and his consistent encouragement carrying others along with him.
GT was both a lifelong learner and a teacher — more characteristics of a gentleman. I was unaware he had a PhD until after his death, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, he retired as head librarian at a local university, but he wasn’t one to advertise he had a string of letters after his name. He was well versed on a variety of subjects and supplemented his studies with travel both in this country and abroad so he had a wide knowledge base to draw on. He was willing to share this wisdom whether leading a Biblical study group at church or acting as a “docent” — that is, a learned lecturer/guide — at the art institute in a nearby large city.
Another characteristic of a gentleman is that he is civil, that is, he values all people and treats everyone with respect regardless of their social or economic position or situation. He bears in mind how his behavior and words impact others. GT was known not only for his civility but coupled it with another characteristic of a gentleman — that of being well-mannered, which is more than just being polite.
I found that he was not only comfortable in a variety of settings with all kinds of folks whether working out, in a casual chat with friends, or delivering a powerful message in a religious setting. He, however, also had the remarkable ability to bring out, to arouse this feeling of being comfortable, in others. No one felt left out with him.
One of the most important characteristic of a gentleman is his ability to communicate and GT was a master at communicating. Not only well-spoken in his excellent command of our language, he also was well aware that listening, truly listening, is a critical part of connecting with others. His ability to be dedicated to what others were saying combined with his remarkable voice with its distinguished tones and delivery inspired others to feel involved, activated and understood.
There are other characteristics, such as appearance, I could go into, but suffice it to note that he was always appropriately attired for the occasion whether for a workout in “sweats” or giving a lecture on historical religious sites in Europe. He not only understood the importance of appearance but dealt with it effortlessly. I know that George T. Johnson wasn’t perfect because no one is. He was, however, most certainly a rarity in today’s society — a true gentleman.
At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a regular contributing columnist and local area resident, may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.