Duncan N. Johnson Sr., a prominent Augusta businessman, philanthropist and second-generation owner of one of the region’s oldest automobile dealerships, died Thursday from cardiac arrest while vacationing in South Carolina. He was 72.
His Johnson Motor Co. Cadillac dealership, founded in 1936 by his father, C.C. Johnson, is now presided over by the third generation - his son Duncan Johnson Jr.
On Friday, Johnson Jr. recalled his father as a “quiet leader” who avoided the spotlight.
“He was always proudest of the people he helped, not the things he had done,” he said, noting that his father’s donations were instrumental in creating Camp Lakeside, a multi-purpose facility at Lake Thurmond that hosts the Children’s Hospital of Georgia’s Camp Rainbow for pediatric cancer patients.
For more than four decades, Johnson Sr. operated the dealership during an unprecedented period of expansion in which new brands were added and the company’s footprint was expanded beyond downtown Augusta to Aiken County.
As a member of the Augusta National Golf Club’s transportation committee, Johnson played a crucial role in supplying Masters Tournament officials and guests with courtesy Cadillac cars. Johnson quietly continued fulfilling special requests even after the vehicle sponsorship was transferred to Mercedes-Benz.
“Guess what Ben Crenshaw drove the whole week in Augusta last year? A Cadillac Escalade,” said David Fitzwater, Cadillac’s regional sales and marketing manager. “That’s just the kind of guy Duncan was. He did things out of the kindness of his heart and never got paid – and nobody knows it.”
In addition to being an avid outdoorsman – Johnson was chairman of the state Department of Natural Resource’s North Georgia Mountains Authority – he also was a well-known figure in political circles, having managed every one of the late Rep. Charlie Norwood’s campaigns.
Johnson Jr. said Norwood and his father were behind the creation of the CSRA Alliance for Fort Gordon, the organization that protected Augusta’s military installation during the 2005 base closings and now serves as the region’s main cyberdefense industry promoter.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s office said in a statement Friday that when he decided to run for office, Johnson was “one of the first people he met with in Augusta.”
“He was a good man and will be deeply missed,” Deal’s office said.
In addition to his son, Johnson is survived by his wife of 47 years, Lynda McCrary Johnson, and his daughter, Laura Johnson Garrett, and six grandchildren.
The family will receive friends Sunday from 5-8 p.m. at Platt’s Funeral Home on Belair Road. Funeral services will be private.
The family has asked memorials be made to Camp Lakeside, Attn: Kaci Johnson, 945 Broad St., Augusta, GA 30901.
Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or firstname.lastname@example.org.