Thursday, September 22, 2011

Arthur Noel Johnson, Jr.

He was called Noel because his Dad was Arthur and he did not want to be called Junior. I remember as a child he called his Father, Arthur Noel Johnson, by the initials A.N. Noel had a special relationship with A.N. who was a strong smart man of great character with no more than a 3rd grade education. Noel went on to get his Masters degree from Texas Tech University. It made A.N. very proud. Of the four sons that A.N. had, Noel was present at the end as his Dad lost a bout with cancer. I believe of all his sons A.N. favored Noel the most, because he was after all his junior.
Noel was my Dad and the first manager I had in my career. He drove me to shows when I was too young to get a drivers license. On the way home we would analyze the show from the stand point of strengths and weaknesses. He loved to act in that capacity and told me that he was sad when I became old enough to get to shows by myself.
Dad booked the first show I ever did for the Abernathy Lions Club, because he was the president of the organization at the time. I remember at eleven I told him that I did not think I was good enough to perform for the Abernathy Lions Club with my fledgeling act and he said, "Jay you don't have to be that good to perform for the Lions Club."
In some ways I lost my Dad 17 years ago when he suffered a stroke that left him unable to communicate. For a man as eloquent and intelligent as him it was a great struggle to be robbed of his communication skills. He continued to communicate with us even though it was a struggle. He could say, "I love you" with great clarity while not being able to articulate much else.
Dad was a mathematical savant and taught Algebra in high school after a career in the Navy and a recall to the Korean war. He continued to climb the ladder of a teaching career to became the youngest Superintendent of Schools in Texas. He quit his job as Superintendent to form his own securities business and continue to work with schools as the financial advisor for countless school districts. He helped finance more schools for Texas students than companies hundreds of times the size of his own.
At 89 years old he had grown weary of the fight just to communicate and get around. The strong Navy officer had lost too much weight for his 6' 2" form and the struggle became too much. He did not like hospitals nor doctors and did not want to linger. But when the pain from fluid on his lungs became too much to bear he agreed to go to the emergency room.
Six years ago Dad made the trip to be there for my show off Broadway at the Atlantic Theatre and two years later for the opening night of my Broadway run at the Helen Hayes. He never tired of seeing me perform and it was obvious to me even though he could not tell me in so many words. It was in his eyes. He was there to see my show at the Eiseman Theatre in Richardson a short distance from his house in February of this year. I got to introduce him and my Mom from stage. He was truly beaming back stage.
Tonight at half hour before opening night of my Rochester run, I got a call from my sister. The fluid in my Dad's lungs was worse, his heart was racing out of control and they had transferred him to the ICU. Mom and my sister told the doctor that he did not want to be kept alive artificially and the decision was made to make him comfortable and not resuscitate. As I talked to my Mom from such a long distance away, my Dad opened his eyes, closed them again and passed away. It was a very surreal perspective to experience such an event. As the realization hit all of us my phone ran out of battery power and lasted only long enough for me to say I love you to my Mom. It was ten minutes before I was due on stage.
There was no doubt that this show would be done for my Dad watching from a vantage point that I could not comprehend. I wanted to do the best show I could knowing that he was there. In some way I was glad that I had to concentrate on the moment and not dwell on what had just happened. Dad has always admired my professionalism and my ability to do my job under any circumstance. He would call that a "true" professional.
I knew the final scene in my show talking about the death of my mentor Arthur Sieving ( Yes the name Arthur is very much ingrained in my family history) would be difficult to deliver on this night. What I had not realized is the number of times that I refer to my Dad in the context of the script. The references were like mental land mines that took me by surprise every time. For my Dad, I got through it but there were moments I know the audience did not understand. I did not understand the emotions that ambushed me myself.
The show ended and it was time to let go and I sobbed uncontrollably backstage. My stage manager John Ivy was the only one who knew. He allowed me the space to decompress and sent unknowing opening night well wishers away so that I did not have to pull up and be a professional off stage. The ride back to the house was longer than usual until I was able to plug my phone into a power source and call my wife.
I know that Daddy will never miss another one of my shows, but I will miss him forever and a day. Good night Lt. J.G. Arthur Noel Johnson, Jr. mission accomplished with honors.
Jay

11 comments:

P. Grecian said...

I'm so sorry, Jay.
And I respect you even more than before...the show must go on, and it did. Your dad would have been so proud of you for that, just as he was already proud of you for so much.

Anonymous said...

sending love - xxeleanor

Cheryl said...

My thoughts are with you and your family, Jay. Much love to you all.

Aaron & Judy said...

Thoughts and prayers are with you, Sandi, Tonda, and Bill.

Steve said...

Praying for you and your family during this time. Great tribute to your dad by you performing the show and letting the words and actions speak to you!

Anonymous said...

Jay,
So sorry to hear of your loss. My most profound
condolences to you and your family!
I am sure your father is beaming now with pride over
his talented son, with the soul of a poet, who conducts
himself as a "true" professional!

Tom Farrell

Anonymous said...

Oh, Jay, so sorry to hear of this. Our prayers go out to you and your family at this sad time.

Rick

Bob Baker said...

Jay:

My deepest condolences on your loss. And strange though it may seem, I suspect the deeply heartfelt words of your blog today were a comfort to all of us who have lost our fathers.

Sincerely,

Bob Baker

rs said...

Dear Jay: this may sound like an odd thing to say, but as a father myself, I can only hope that at the end of my life, I could have such peace of mind knowing my son was at that moment engaged in an activity that is thoughtful, expressive, and artful, and which so clearly reflects how honorably I raised him. You made your father a very lucky man.

Best wishes to you - Roger.

Steve Bluestein said...

Jay, I did not know your father, but I know you and if you are a reflection of him he was a wonderful human being. You are so lucky to have had a father who so loved and cared for you... you are right.. he will always be with you as we all are now in your time of sorrow.

steve bluestein

Tiffany Cox said...

I'm so impressed with your "the show must go on" attitude! Your strength is amazing. I'm so sorry he's gone, Jay. He sounds like he was a terrific dad. You were very lucky to have him. Brightest blessings to you and your family from the Cox Clan in Des Moines.