AUSTIN, TEXAS-27 JULY 2002
On July 27, 2002, Judge Sam D. Johnson died at his home surrounded by his family in Austin. Judge Johnson was recognized as a giant of the judiciary having served for more than 35 years. His long judicial career reflected both his dedication and his modest nature. He was often called “the people’s Judge”.
Sam was born on Nov. 17, 1920 in Hubbard, Texas to Flora Brown and Sam D. Johnson, Sr. His father died tragically when Sam was 8 years old and his mother subsequently raised him in Hubbard. He was also influenced by two sets of loving mentors and surrogate parents; his Aunt Dixie and Uncle Jimmy Johnson and Eleanor and Professor Lowell Wilkes. Throughout his life he continued to feel a deep love for Hubbard and for his many friends there.
In 1938 he began Baylor University, a very strict Baptist school. This was a challenge to him. Still, Sam managed to combine college with fun. He became a member of the notorious “NoZe Brotherhood” where he was christened “Brother Rough NoZe” Johnson.
During WW II, Sam served in France as a combat infantryman in the 95th Infantry Division, Third Army under General Patton. He saw fierce fighting in the battle for the French city of Metz on the French/German border. On his 24th birthday, he was wounded outside of Metz and carried shrapnel from those wounds in his body for the rest of his life. He was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in action, the Bronze Star for Valor, and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. One of Sam’s greatest memories from WW II was returning to Metz in 1994 for a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Metz’s liberation from the Nazis. There the people of Metz, for whom the four year Nazi occupation was a well remembered tragedy, honored Sam and the other returning members of the 95th Infantry as the selfless heroes that they were.
Following the war, Sam returned to Baylor and graduated with honors. He then went on to graduate from the University of Texas Law School in Austin.
On June 1, 1946, Sam made what he called the smartest decision of his life when he married June Page of Raymondville, Texas. During his Fifth Circuit retirement ceremony, Sam said, “she is the person who knows me best; she is the person responsible for my being here. Let me put it another way, I would never have been on this Court or any other Court without her”.
After graduating from law school, Sam and June moved to Hillsboro where he began his legal career. He was elected County Attorney and then District Attorney for Hill County. In 1958, he was elected Hill County District Judge. Like Hubbard, Sam had a deep and abiding love for Hillsboro and its people and returned there often.
In 1965, Sam resigned as District Judge and moved to Houston to establish and become first director of the Houston Legal Foundation-a pilot program providing legal services for indigents. Sam was committed to making the legal system work for all people. This foundation remains in existence today as the Gulf Coast Legal Foundation, enabling the poor to receive legal representation in both civil and criminal matters.
In 1967, Sam was appointed as a justice on the newly created Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals in Houston. Five years later, in 1972, he announced that he was seeking election to a vacancy on the Texas Supreme Court. Sam’s reputation for fairness and for action had spread throughout the state. He was known as a “man of the people”-honest, firm, courteous, professional and intellectually sound. No one filed to run against him. This marked the only time in Texas History that a non-incumbent has been elected unopposed to a vacancy on this court.
In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Sam ultimately served on the bench for over 35 years and authored more than 900 opinions.
During his legal career, Judge Johnson had more than 50 law clerks, young law school graduates who aided in legal research and writing. He was adamant that these clerks treat each case with due respect and uphold the dignity of the parties involved. He truly enjoyed his law clerks. He enjoyed their friendship, enjoyed mentoring them and enjoyed following their subsequent careers. In his chambers, “morning coffee” was a daily ritual in which Sam, the clerks and the secretaries shared coffee, conversation and camaraderie. As each clerk’s term expired, he felt a personal loss in bidding them goodbye.
He was an active Presbyterian serving as a teacher, deacon, and elder in the First Presbyterian Church of Hillsboro. (some of this obit is missing)
He was preceded in death by his sister Margaret Scoates, and his beloved nephew Joe Wier.
Visitation will be Monday, July 29 from 6 to 8 p m at Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home, 3125 North Lamar Blvd. The service will be held at Covenant Presbyterian Church at 1 p m Tuesday, July 30 with interment following at the Texas State Cemetery.
Memorials may be made to the Sam D. Johnson Professorship at Baylor Law School or the Presbyterian Children’s Home.
WEED-CORLEY-FISH, AUSTIN, TEXAS