On August 24, 2020—78 years to the day of his birth, we lost our dad, husband, brother, grandpa/papa, uncle and friend Anthony Allingham Johnson.
Given the unprecedented times that we are in, there likely will not be a gathering to celebrate his amazing life for some time. Because of this, forgive us if we take a few liberties on this obituary to pay tribute to this exceptional man.
Anthony Allingham Johnson was born August 24, 1942, in Sheridan, Wyoming to Lee Roy Johnson and Mary Louise Allingham. Lee owned and managed Johnson Novelty and Mary Louise was an artist.
His older brother Ed was six years his senior. I am unsure how their relationship began, but they grew to be both each other’s best advisor and partner-in-crime. They loved to debate about…well…everything. Pretty sure Tony came by those lawyer skills naturally by debating the shade of blue of the Wyoming sky with Ed. Sister Mary Louise (Junior to her family) came along four years later and was always the sweet, steady, sensible, and firm force for her older brothers. Finally came Jon, 12 years younger than dad. Jon, in addition to being the baby, was also the best toy the older boys ever had.
One of their entertainments was convincing a young Jon (although I am not sure how much convincing it took) to compete in several for-profit boxing matches in the neighborhood.
Despite claiming (numerous times) how hard life was in Sheridan, (“I had to pull my little brother and my cello in a wagon with no wheels uphill both ways through the Wyoming snow”) it was always home. His favorite time to spend in Sheridan was Thanksgiving, at his childhood home on 5th Street full of cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, (and later children and grandchildren) laughter, debate and music.
Our dad loved music. At the time of his death, he had three iPods full of music and hundreds more CD’s/cassettes and probably an 8-track or two in the basement. He didn’t just listen to music, he played the cello, piano and taught himself guitar.
His passion and love of music was on full display on long (or short) drives when he would play Copeland, Vivaldi, James Taylor, Randy Newman, Gordon Lightfoot, Everly Brothers…so loudly you could feel every note. He would often breeze by skiing with his yellow sport Walkman, singing James Taylor at the top of his lungs while cruising down the mountain. There were also the times he would shout his conversation to you over the top of his music. This was all highly embarrassing as a teen…which I am certain he well knew.
Tony left Wyoming in 1960 to attend the University of Southern California on a full ROTC scholarship. He was a lifelong SC Trojan supporter (particularly when they defeated Notre Dame), however, he did have a struggle when the University of Colorado joined the Pac-12. Having sent three daughters to CU, he often joked that it was hard to choose between rooting for his alma mater or his money.
Upon graduation from USC with his degree in International Studies, Tony was commissioned into the Marine Corps as Second Lieutenant where he served on the USS Merrick as well as in-country in Vietnam. While at Quantico, he met and married our mother, and, shortly before his first tour, they welcomed their first daughter Jennifer. In 1967 his second daughter Stephanie was born and in 1968 he began his second tour of Vietnam.
While in the service, Tony earned the Combat Action Medal, the National Defense Service medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, the Rifle Sharpshooter Badge and the Pistol Sharpshooter Badge.
A few years ago, Dad gave Jennifer and Stephanie tiny little plastic hair barrettes. They were old and mangled but presented in wrapped beautiful boxes. We were all a bit confused about their significance. Dad said he carried them both with him in Vietnam to remind him of his girls back home. When asked why they were so mangled, he said he often carried them in between his teeth. I think like most children of veterans, he didn’t share a lot about his time there with us. But, these little mangled barrettes showed us all we needed to know…his desire to make it home.
After ROTC, active duty, and reserve duty, Tony served in the Marine Corps for over 38 years when he fully retired in 2002 as a Lt. Colonel.
Upon his return to the United States, they moved to Laramie, Wyoming where dad went to law school and graduated with his JD from the University of Wyoming in 1972 (Go Pokes!). His first job was with the Organized Crime Taskforce in Denver for then-District Attorney John P. Moore. In 1974 his third daughter Alicia was born. Shortly after, they moved to Colorado Springs.
Starting as a district attorney in Colorado Springs, he later went into private practice with Rector, Rutherford, Mullen, and Johnson. Here began lifelong friendships with colleagues.
Dad was a great attorney. Yes, we may be biased, but watching him in court arguing a case was truly awesome.
Now, it was less awe-inspiring to be on the other side of that argument, but one of his greatest legacies he passed down to his daughters and grandchildren is the ability to present and defend an opinion. This was critical to not only surviving a family dinner but also anytime you presented a piece of information without the data to support it. For example, I once told my dad that he shouldn’t leave the water running when he brushed his teeth and shaved as it wasted gallons of water. He then asked me “how many gallons?” and after a frustrating 10-minute discussion, it was clear that I did not have enough of the facts necessary to support my claim and I stormed off. I then researched, wrote, and presented an eight-page report on the topic, and he stopped running the water while he brushed and shaved.
Now, he may have regretted instilling that ability to argue a point when we disagreed on things, but I know it also made him proud. His “nooow LOOKit” was like the starting gun for debate and let you know you were in for it now. It is something I can always hear him say. Of course, the “now LOOKit” didn’t strike the same fear into his grandkids. When they came along, “now LOOKit” was often followed by “this is the last cookie you are getting…”.
On Saturdays, and at lunch during the week, dad could often be found at the YMCA playing pick-up basketball. I recall tagging along with dad on Saturdays to the gym followed by a stop at Papa Joe’s for pizza. Dad shared his basketball fever with his daughters, even coaching high school basketball summer league, roping in a partner in his firm to assist. He was a constant at their athletics as was his booming “Oorah” (the Marine Corps battle cry) echoing around the Palmer High School gymnasium. An embarrassment to 16-year old me, and favorite story and treasured memory now.
In 1999, dad married Kitty, his North Star. His love for Kitty was obvious as he married her even with the threat of being hit by a 9-iron! Kitty was the yin to his yang and balanced out his rougher edges. Kitty shared her faith with dad and with her love and prayers brought him to a deeper relationship with God. Kitty patiently and lovingly took care of him as his COPD progressed from minor inconvenience to a daily battle.
The other love of Tony’s life was golf and he spent years fine-tuning his game and sharing his love of the game with anyone and everyone. He could be found on the links at Eisenhower golf course with Kitty, his friends, and his son-in-law, Dan, who together sandbagged a member-guest tournament and they came out the champions! A highlight of his golf career.
Tony was preceded in death by his father, Lee Roy Johnson, his mother, Mary Louise Allingham Johnson, and his brother, Edwin Lee Johnson. Others left to cherish his memory are his beloved wife Kitty Leigh Johnson, his brother Jon Eric (Helen) Johnson of Santa Monica, California, his sister Mary Louise (Roger) Adams of Sheridan, Wyoming, his three daughters Jennifer Diane (Dan) Engerman of Centennial, Colorado, Stephanie Allyn Schiemann of Littleton, Colorado, and Alicia Lynne (Peter) Smith of Centennial, Colorado, his stepdaughter Brianna Baker, stepson Chris Sumner and his beloved grandchildren Darby (Jake) Landon, Mitchell Engerman, Jackson Schiemann, Brodie Schiemann, Sebastian Smith, Elliot, Bailey Sumner, Zack Baker and Owen Baker along with loved nieces and nephews.
A small family graveside service will be held on October 20 at the Pikes Peak National Cemetery in Colorado Springs and will be streamed.
Donations can be made in the name of Anthony A. Johnson to the Salvation Army or the Vietnam Veterans of America.
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