BY KAREN CAMPBELL
Weakley County Schools Communications Director
WEAKLEY COUNTY (September 21) – Bobby Johnson is known as a hard worker and a man generous with his time and skills. But if you ask him, he wants to be remembered as Patty’s husband.
When he lost his wife of almost 35 years in February, he determined he wanted to memorialize her. Looking around the farm he had worked since retiring from Indiana steel mills in 2000, he found just the thing – a 1968 International 856 tractor and mower.
While the gift, valued at approximately $9000, may not, on the surface, seem quite so romantic, one need only dig a bit deeper to discover the significance.
Johnson was born in McKenzie in 1936 and grew up in the Big Buck community helping alongside his sharecropper father who also owned 104 acres. Though a career in agriculture was not to be for the younger Johnson, 44 years later, after retiring from the mills, he returned to Carroll County and brought Pennsylvania native “Miss Patty” with him. They built a house on the 40 acres once owned by his aunt and some that he, as a teen, had farmed with his uncle.
For two decades, the couple rooted themselves in the community. She worked three days a week at Gary Simmons Autoplex in McKenzie and baked goodies for neighbors and friends. She decorated for the holidays. And she and Bobby made Christmas bags filled with treats that they delivered to the businesses in the community.
Before Bobby was diagnosed with cancer, he spent his time cutting hay, tilling gardens for neighbors, and working his own garden so that they had vegetables to give away.
Among those neighbors is Steven Gibson, who readily admits he would love to claim them as his grandparents. “He has a positive personality,” Gibson said. “I’ve never heard him speak bad of anyone. My kids love them dearly. When I mention them being my neighbors, people always have nice things to say about them.”
Thinking that he would precede his wife in death, Johnson thought he had everything in order. Then COVID hit hard, and Miss Patty was gone.
That’s when Johnson determined that he and Miss Patty’s legacy would extend beyond the farm and Carroll County. He told Gibson he wanted to contribute to the future of kids and the future of agriculture and to do so in his wife’s honor. Gibson, whose two sons were students of Lindsey Parham when the now Weakley County CTE Director was an ag teacher at McKenzie High School, had just seen a social media post made by Parham about the Weakley County Livestock Production Farm. He knew where to turn.
Gibson invited Parham to the farm in Big Buck. Since the tractor had been sitting unused for a time, they invited Ray Griffith, Parham’s former ag teacher and onetime manager of the school district’s farm to come along for the assessment. (The farm’s current manager, Jason Kemp, was already booked on the day set to travel to Carroll County.)
Weakened by the disease, Johnson, made his way onto the porch, assisted by his walker, then leaving it behind and with a few helping hands, crossed the yard and made it to behind the barn where the tractor was located.
“He had trouble getting out the door, but he was determined to come with us. He wanted to see them crank it,” she said and then paused. “Well try … the batteries were dead.”
Griffith soon enlisted Triple J Towing of Latham to relocate the tractor and batwing mower from Big Buck to the farm. The only repair needed, it was soon determined, were the new batteries.
“The donation was never just about a tractor,” explained Parham. “Mr. Johnson didn’t care if the students were going to take it apart and learn the mechanics or actually able to get it running and use it on the farm. What he wanted most of all was that they use it to learn.”
The now working tractor was actually just what Kemp had been looking for – a larger tractor to help address the recent expansion of the farm’s workable acreage — clipping pastures, moving/feeding hay and bush hogging.
The Dresden FFA Alumni is purchasing a disc for the tractor for cultivating and renovating pastures on the farm.
The plan had been for Johnson to visit the high school farm, see his memorial to his wife in action and maybe grab a photo with students. While the timing for that captured reminder has yet to work out, his and his wife’s legacy will live on.
“My favorite memory will be Bobby and I sitting on his porch eating strawberry popsicles and him giving me a history lesson,” Gibson said. “I could sit for hours and just listen. Even with his cancer diagnosis and losing his wife he still tells me how good God has been to him and how he thanks God daily for his goodness. He makes me want to be a better person and to strive to be more like him.”