URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) – “Be like Tim, the dad – my dad. And show up,” Heather Stevenson said.
Hundreds showed up for Tim Johnson Saturday. The Illinois lawmaker and Champaign County native died last month at 75. His friends and family gathered in Urbana’s Lincoln Square Mall – a beloved destination of his daily strolls through his hometown – to say their final goodbyes.
“I miss him like crazy. And yet, I have to hope to see him again. So when I get there, he will be the first to show up for me. Until then I just continue proud that I am his daughter,” Stevenson said.
Several hundred faces filled the crowd, but they all say Tim Johnson “never knew a stranger.”
“I’ve never seen anybody else that was so aware of what’s happening in his district. And with those people, Tim always had time for them,” friend and Capitol Hill colleague Dan Frost said.
Johnson spent 12 years serving the 15th U.S. congressional district. For 24 years before that, he was an Illinois House representative. Even before that, an Urbana City Council member. Through it all, he was making calls and knocking on doors. So, when the community was invited to celebrate his life, it’s no surprise some flocked from across the country.
“When I asked people to stand that had worked with him, probably 30 or 40 people stood up. Whether it was at the local level, the state level or the national level, Tim impacted lives. People are very grateful to have had him serving them,” Frost said.
Johnson was best known for his retail politics; he wanted to know every constituent personally. He was described as a quirky boss, but a genuine statesman – and a loyal friend.
“He’s been more than a political friend. He’s been a real life friend, and to lose him – it’s just hard for me to handle,” Champaign County Republican Party Chairman Dee Shonkwiler said.
Johnson was notably a proud, but “open-minded” Republican. He helped establish the Congressional Center Aisle Caucus, through which he hoped to help solve tough bipartisan issues. Colleagues said his spirit will be missed in politics.
“There really needs to be a level of civility that sometimes in the political world seems to not exist anymore,” Johnson’s former press secretary Matt Bisbee said.
Beneath the public servant’s exterior was a father of 10, and that was the title he was most proud of.
“I used to sneak into his car and hide in the backseat when he was going to Springfield so I could try to come with,” his youngest son, Chris Johnson said. “He was never congressman or state representative Tim Johnson. He was my dad.”