• 73°

Johnson was part of the Callaway family

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

He was a member of the family.

For Todd Johnson, being the school resource officer at Callaway High School was more than a job.

For Johnson, who was a deputy with the Troup County Sheriff’s Department, being a part of the day-to-day operations at Callaway High gave him an opportunity to directly impact the lives of hundreds of young people, and that was a responsibility he attacked with passion.

Johnson was always a friendly and welcoming face during the school day, and he was a regular presence at sporting events throughout the school year, celebrating the good times, and being there with a kind word in the bad times.

“I’ve seen him time after time mentoring and talking to

kids, and just being positive with them, and sharing stories about his own life, and experiences he’s had to help make them better,” said Pete Wiggins, Callaway High’s head football coach and athletics director. “You could see every day how much he cared for the kids, just with his actions, and with his demeanor toward young people.”

Sadly, Johnson died on Saturday at the age of 50, leaving behind two daughters, as well as countless friends whose lives were positively influenced by having known him.

One of those friends is Wiggins, who spent so much time with Johnson during his time at    Callaway High.

“I’ve just got great respect for him and the job that he did in the school as an SRO officer, but also in our athletic programs,” Wiggins said. “He was very dedicated to his job, and he was always there in front of the bus, or behind the bus in his patrol car. I always noticed how much pride he took in that, and he enjoyed being on the field after the game and hugging the kids’ necks, and giving them high fives and celebrating the wins, but also putting his arm around kids and helping them through a loss. He was that kind of guy.”

Johnson was a life-long Troup County resident and a Troup High graduate, and he was a member   of the Troup County Sheriff’s Office before leaving for a private-sector job in 2017.

During the fall of 2016, which was a special time for Callaway High athletics with the football team making it to the state semifinals, Johnson talked about how much passion he had for being there for the students, and that extended well beyond the school day.

He was available at all hours of the day, with his phone always at the ready, to talk to students, to listen to their problems and offer a sympathetic ear.

“If it helps one child get through a problem, I’ll do it,” Johnson said. “They (students) want to see a familiar face and know there is a way to change and make things better. If it wasn’t for the role models in my life, it could’ve been me trying to get a pill bottle out of my hand.”

Johnson, speaking with passion and emotion, said “God put me here for some reason. I don’t like what I do, I love what I do.”

That passion, Wiggins added, came across in everything Johnson did, including those moments after practices, or during games, when he’d pick up a spatula and help flip the burgers and hot dogs on the grill.

“He would always help with our cookouts, and help prepare meals for our kids,” Wiggins said. “You just saw the caring in him that just made our school better.”

When the sad news of Johnson’s death was announced, the heart-felt tributes began to pour in on social media.

Jeff McGuffin, a soccer coach at Callaway High who has had two daughters play on the team, said “I will miss you my brother. You were a really good friend to me always but especially during some times when I needed it most.

“You loved my girls and always asked and checked on them. You were my armadillo-killing partner when they were getting in our soccer, softball, baseball and football fields. You were my partner in crime during many a chili cooking and hey, we even won a trophy doing it. You were a true friend in every aspect of the word. I love you my brother and will see you again one day. Rest in peace my man.”

Kevin Craft was a standout baseball player at Callaway High who went on to play the sport in college, and his thoughts were with Johnson when he virtually graduated from Western Carolina University on Saturday.

“It’s a truly a blessing to graduate college today and I’m extremely grateful for everyone who reached out and congratulated me. Today, I just want to celebrate the life of Todd Johnson,” Craft said. “Officer Todd, you were always there for me from every single baseball game at Callaway to keeping up with me in college at Chipola. It was always a pleasure coming back to see you greeting me with open arms every time. I would always love coming to school every day at Callaway just knowing that you would always be there for anyone who ever needed anything in the world. You have impacted so many people in this world and I know Callaway and all of Troup County is truly blessed to call you a dear friend and a member of the family. There are so many things to say but the most important thing I can say is thank you for everything Officer Todd. Rest Easy.”

Melissa Shirey has treasured memories of Johnson interacting with her daughter Alyssa, who lost her fight with cancer in 2017 at the age of 13.

In a Facebook post, Melissa Shirey said “my heart is breaking right now at the news about Todd Johnson’s passing. He was such a good friend and could light up Alyssa’s smile every time he came to visit her I have no doubt that my sweet girl met him at the gates of heaven to welcome him in, you will be missed Todd please give me sweet girl a hug.”

Michelle Nation, whose son Jared Nation is the Callaway High valedictorian, became the Callaway graduation coach at the same time Johnson became the school resource officer.

She’s grateful for the kindness he showed to Jared, and to all of the students he had such much love for.

“When I had students in need, I saw Todd go out of his way to help them,” Michelle Nation said. “During one particular time, there was a trio of siblings who were not living in these best of circumstances. As the five of us met in his office, I heard him give a bit of his testimony to them. He openly shared of himself to help others.”

Johnson, Pete Wiggins said, “was an inspirational person to be around our kids. I’ll just always remember how much he cared.”