The stretch of Route 214 between Route 117 and Route 12 was officially recognized yesterday as the Wesley J. Johnson Sr. Memorial Highway in honor of Wes Johnson, former mayor, volunteer and an old friend. The Day published an article about the occasion but I thought I’d repeat a blog post I wrote about Wes in November 2008, just a few days after his death:
Wes Johnson and I worked together at Boyer Real Estate in Gales Ferry back in the early 1980’s. We instantly became friends when we realized we had something in common; our passion for politics. Wes encouraged me to get involved in the Ledyard community. He put my name forward as an appointment to the Parks and Recreation Commission, and then as a member of the Ledyard Republican Town Committee. Yes, he was a good Republican back then. Turns out he wasn’t such a good real estate agent, and years later joked about how he would take the bus to the office so he wouldn’t have to show houses.
With just a little nudge from Wes, I decided to run for a seat on the Ledyard Board of Education. He served on the Town Council during my tenure. Wes and I loved talking politics; local, state and national. We analyzed every race and poured over post election statistics. In fact, for many years, our tradition was to meet for breakfast the day after the election. I was his campaign manager the first time he ran for mayor, and despite a disappointing loss, we met for breakfast to analyze the results. It was tradition, win or lose.
In the early 90’s, Wes and I become disillusioned with the leadership of the local Republican party and we made the front page of the New London Day newspaper when we ceremonially went to town hall together to change our party affiliation. Wes became a Democrat. I really wanted him to remain unaffiliated but he needed to contribute his time and efforts to a political party. I became unaffiliated for a few years and then went home to the Republican Party when the leadership changed. It was awkward to find myself campaigning against Wes but I know he understood. It was politics and no one understood that better than he did. Being political opponents ended the days of discussing strategy and analyzing election returns. Years later, we found ourselves on the opposite sides of the aisle as members of the Ledyard Town Council. During his last term of office, we’d often reminisce about the “good old days”. No one could tell a story or a joke better than Wes. When we were on opposite sides of an issue, I’d see a twinkle in his eye. He was pretty easy on me but he wasn’t so kind to my fellow Republicans. No one knew Robert’s Rules as well as he did, and he often used them to his advantage. .
Despite his illness, Wes was recently appointed to the Ledyard Charter Revision Commission. We had served on a previous Charter Revision Commission together in 1985. Several weeks ago, I sent him a card and mentioned our past service together. His most recent appointment was just one of a very very long list of contributions to the Town of Ledyard.
Wes Johnson died Sunday morning. I can’t help but think of all those “a politician went to heaven” jokes.