When I realize how young Rodney Johnson was when he was my Wills and Trusts professor in law school, I'm gobsmacked. He seemed much older to a 23 year old me. In many ways he was. Deliberate of speech, careful in his pronouncements, a man who thought things through before he opened his mouth, he was one hell of a teacher. I can think of maybe four teachers in all my scholastic career I will never forget and always be grateful I was a student of theirs, and Professor Johnson was one of them. Miss Blazer (honors high school English), Dr. Niederer (art history), Richard H. W. Dillard (creative writing), and Rodney Johnson were the best. Richard still is, since he's the only one still with us.
Wills and Trusts was a required course when I was in law school a thousand years ago, and I really wasn't in the right frame of mind for it. I wanted to be a criminal defense attorney. As far as I was concerned, spend your money and don't leave any for your heirs. That philosophy only works when you're 23. Rodney Johnson was a no-nonsense kind of teacher who expected you sit up, pay attention, and think. I respect that in a professor, so I grudgingly did what he asked. Along the way, I learned a heck of a lot that was fascinating and showed me how the legal landscape of wills and trusts was fraught with time bombs and not for the faint-of-heart lawyer. Yes, people killed over estates. I soaked it all in.
I can't say I ever wanted to work exclusively with wills and trusts, but I learned enough to take my time, research, and ask the right questions. If I had a sticky situation that had me wondering if I was writing a document correctly, I could always pick up the phone and call my former teacher. He'd start with his slow drawl and pleasantries, then say "well now, let me make sure we're clear about the problem." And he always helped me regain my confidence, or he'd steer me in another direction I hadn't realized was there. I will be forever grateful to him for his kindness and professionalism.
He was a good man who gave unstintingly of himself to others, and not only his former students. His dedication to his family, especially his lovely wife, his church, and his faith were givens. No one ever doubted his sincerity or his joy in giving of his talents to those who needed them. It's pretty much a cliché to say the world will be a lesser place without him, but in this instance, it's horribly true.
I wish I'd known he wasn't going to be with us for long. I'd have written or called, and I will always regret that I didn't. The best thing I can do to honor his memory is to pay it forward. I will.