Remembering “Dotty” Johnson

By Lura Jackson


Every once in a while, a person comes along that touches the lives of nearly everyone they meet. They don’t do this for glory or personal acclaim, but because of their genuine desire to help or inspire others in any way they can. Dorothy “Dotty” Johnson, who passed away on March 27th, was one such rare individual.

During her lifetime – the majority of which was spent in Washington County – Johnson came to know many of the people living in the extended community through her work at Woodland High School and later as a columnist for The Calais Advertiser. Of the people contacted for comments for this article, each fondly recalled her characteristic blunt honesty and unfailing generosity.

“Dotty was my favorite confidant,” said Kara Mitchell, who knew Johnson from their joint efforts working for The Calais Advertiser and The Machias Valley News Observer, as well as from their shared affection for Robbinston. “She supplied me with her unfiltered, honest opinion.” Mitchell said that Johnson’s generosity was always an inspiration, noting that she helped to secure bikes and toys for local children in need and would help friends and family however she could. As their relationship blossomed, Mitchell came to deeply appreciate Johnson’s character. “I hope to become as selfless and quick-witted as Dorothy Johnson!”

It was in her role at the school system in Baileyville that Johnson made many of her connections and impressions with the community. “As a teacher and a counselor, Dotty never failed to offer advice to her students,” recalls long-time friend Sally Doten. “Whether it was how to correctly use grammar and to write a whole sentence or to suggest a college career, she was there to help. The students loved her because she told it like it was, sometimes with a little laughter in her voice, sometimes with a sharp slap to the desk. ‘You either complete this course with a passing grade or you’ll be back here next year doing it again!’ She’d say.”

Referring to Johnson as “one of the most generous people I’ve ever known,” Doten said that students would often knock on her door seeking help – and they would receive it. Sometimes it would be a ride needed somewhere, or on occasion a student would need money. Whenever money was borrowed, the students would always return it. “She had faith in these kids and she never doubted she would be reimbursed.”

It wasn’t only the youth of the community that benefitted from Johnson’s character. When she was an incoming teacher in 1999, Patricia Foley remembers meeting her the first time when she was looking for materials for her English class. “I ran into Dotty, who was also working that day, told her what I had in mind – she rolled her eyes – and asked her where the books were stored. ‘I don’t know if you’ll find what you’re looking for,’ she said, ‘but don’t even think about buying more. The book room’s already overflowing with stuff nobody’s used in years… Tell you what: let’s just go see what we can steal from the other teachers.’ So, we did. She was often a great help to me, and a true friend to students.”

For Paula McShane, Johnson served as a mentor when she was beginning her own career as a guidance counselor at Woodland High School. “[Dotty] was always available for help and guidance as I needed it,” McShane said. Johnson advised McShane that she should never be without a four-color pen that she could use to color-coordinate classes, a tip that proved invaluable over time. “She said it would be a lifesaver when working the master schedule and she was so right.”

McShane reflected on another of Johnson’s admirable traits: her propensity to love and cherish animals, each of which she treated with respect and kindness. “Years ago, I’d visit her at her house back when she lived in Baileyville, and there was a cat in every window and on every chair. Each one had a name and a story. Dotty was a kind-hearted, very generous friend to many and is missed by all who knew her.”

Nada Williams, another long-time friend and coworker had many kind words to share about Johnson. “I watched as she championed students who may have needed extra attention, time and compassion… I know that she and the school resource officer arranged for a student in legal trouble to be able to attend graduation.  I know she threw a bridal shower for a senior girl who was getting married and moving out of state with her new husband.  I know she did a lot of “creative writing” when a student’s grades weren’t quite what they should be but she knew the talent and knowledge was there and just needed to be tapped. I also know that she did these things because of her love of her ‘kids’ and not for the acknowledgement or the glory.  I also know that many years after her retirement she remembered all of her kids, knew where they were and what they were doing.”

While her honesty and generosity were impossible to not notice, it was Johnson’s sense of humor and ability to laugh at herself that endeared her to many. Doten, who would often accompany Johnson on her trips to Bangor, recalls one such incident that brought merriment to both of them. “On one trip to the auto shop, they offered to take us wherever we wanted to go,” Doten said. “Dotty said to me, ‘You sit in the front with the driver, I’ll sit in the back.’ This was fine with me. When the back door slid opened, Dotty attempted to get in. ‘Sally, help me! I can’t get my foot in.’ I dutifully went to the back and lifted her leg into the car. ‘Sally, I can’t get my butt in. Give me a push.’ Again, I did as I was asked. One big push on the butt and she was settled comfortably in the back seat. When we arrived at the restaurant I went to the back to help her out. All went well. Inside the establishment, sitting at the table, we both broke out in gales of laughter. Try to picture this story in your minds. Most of you knew Dotty, and most know me. It was a big push!”

The stories of Dorothy “Dotty” Johnson now held in the hearts and minds of the community are probably too numerous to ever attempt to collect, but from this small sampling we can appreciate the way in which this boldly unique person helped to make Washington County into a more caring, special place.

The sign propped by the road in front of the Robbinston Historical Society was a reminder of Dorothy Johnson’s dedication to the community. Pictured in the background is Grace Chapel.  (Photo by Kara Mitchell)