- Cullman, Alabama

November 7, 2013

Dr. Benjamin Franklin Johnson

Moss-Service Funeral Home

CULLMAN — Dr. Benjamin Franklin Johnson

Funeral services for Dr. Benjamin Franklin Johnson of Cullman will be at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013, at Seventh Street Baptist Church in Cullman, with burial in Cullman City Cemetery.

Moss-Service Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Dr. Johnson passed away Wednesday, Nov. 6, a distinguished resident of the Col. Robert Howard Veterans Home in Pell City, Ala. At his birthday celebration this year, he said, “I have lived a spectacular life, some times were spectacularly tough, but most times were spectacularly beautiful.” In his recent published memoir, “Being Frank”, he wrote about the impossibly difficult circumstances of his childhood that forged his resolve to improve the quality of his life and the lives of others through education, persistence toward high ideals and personal sacrifice. He was a child in foster care from six years old until his enlistment in the U.S. Navy at 17, earning a Bronze Star and meritorious service ribbons for his exemplary duty in six invasions, including Iwo Jima, Saipan and Midway Islands, in World War II.

After the war, he met and married Ruby Terry of Courtland, Ala., and they were married for more than 60 years until her passing in 2011. He achieved professional success as a respected educator and sought opportunities for community service. He served the Alabama Democratic Party and the Alabama Education Association with distinction. Having earned one of the first General Equivalency Diplomas (GEDs) awarded in Alabama, he went on to earn bachelors and masters degrees from the University of Alabama and a doctorate degree from Auburn University. His first experiences as a young educator were as a principal in the Cullman County area schools and as a professor of education at St. Bernard College in Cullman. He adored his students, especially the little ones, and the inexhaustible power of teaching and learning.

He was a bold visionary and early leader in what would become the Alabama Community College System. He was appointed as the first president of George C. Wallace Trade School in Hanceville and was entrusted with the development of curriculum standards for statewide technical programs at their inception. He served as an administrator at Reid State Technical College in Anniston and at Gadsden State Community College in Gadsden.

After retiring as a college administrator, he bought The Cullman Tribune, a weekly newspaper with historical and community significance and enjoyed another career as the paper’s publisher and editor. He finally enjoyed an active retirement, during which he continued his tireless pursuit to build. He continually had another project at the ready with countless additions to his home as his family grew. His family and friends knew him fondly as a natural storyteller, and he reveled in winning an admirer or defending a profound idea with a clever, well-chosen tale. His charm was completely disarming and utterly compelling. His outsized personality was apparent in his bright smile, easy laughter, big gestures and bear hugs, conveying his genuine warmth and wholehearted approach to humanity and life itself. His children and grandchildren attest to his vice-like embrace that left you searching for cracked ribs and wondering how you were so fortunate to be so deeply loved.

His legacy lives on in those who strive through life’s challenges and embrace life with the joyous heart of a child.

Survivors include two sisters, Florene Johnson and Julia Rosen; five children, Dr. John (Laurie) Johnson, Ben Johnson, Dr. Mellania (Robert Motchkavitz) Johnson, Dr. Thomas Evan Johnson and Maleigh Calligaris; 10 grandchildren, Joseph (Jennifer) Jackson, Simeon (Courtney) Johnson, Adam (Nicole) Johnson, Russell (Claudia) Bryan, Lawren (Greer) Barnett, Elizabeth (Nathan) Brock, Benjamin Calligaris, Bess Johnson, Sam Calligaris, Eli Calligaris; and five great-grandchildren, William Bryan, Russell Bryan, Andrew Johnson, Joseph Jackson III, and Alice Wells Johnson.

He was preceded in death by his beloved wife, Dr. Ruby Terry Johnson; and a grandson, John Calligaris.

The family will receive friends for visitation from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday in the church sanctuary.