Lives Remembered: Gillie Johnson
Friday 19 March 2010
Gillie Johnson, who died on 17 January aged 61 from pancreatic cancer, was a mentor, advisor, and friend to hundreds of people in the voluntary sector. A love of music, a commitment to social justice, and an expansive and varied community of friends and neighbours were central to Gillie's childhood in Wimbledon – she was born on 3 April 1948 – and remained central for the rest of her life.
She taught music in Spain in the 1970s, supported the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp, led the youth project Bridges in Hatfield, worked with Stonham Housing Association, helped set up the ex-offenders' organisation Revolving Doors, was co-founder of the community green space Waterloo Green Trust, and worked independently as a consultant and fairy godmother to charitable organisations and the people who drove them.
In her flat in Kennington, with its strings of tiny white lights and lemongrass scented air, its political postcards jostling for position with pictures of her family and friends, Gillie welcomed scores of people whose journeys she helped map with guidelines of justness and fairness. And God help you if she ever caught you neglecting those guidelines. Her outrage could be nuclear, her laughter so joyous and roaring it sometimes made heads turn in restaurants.
Many of us remember trudging to her flat in misery, going up the stairs in search of help, and leaving ready to take on the world. People who would never have met otherwise came together in gatherings at Gillie's flat, got to talking at theatre excursions Gillie organised, or were put in touch through introductions Gillie made, because, as many pointed out, she always saw a person in front of her, not a jail lag or a tramp in the street or a managing director of some big corporation.
When Gillie's unofficially adopted daughter, Ali, gave birth to a girl, Gillie was there and it was, she said, the best day of her life. Winding down late at night, listening to jazz, ice clinking in her glass of wine ("pink or white"), her bulging Filofax by her side, Gillie kept answering the phone and the conversations kept going. In a second life, she once said, she'd want to be a professional jazz musician – Miles Davis or Dexter Gordon.
Gillie is survived by her mother Kathleen Newis, her sister Margie Staker, her unofficially adopted daughter Ali Wood, and the many organisations and friends thriving because of what she gave them.
By Simon Keyes and Linda Mannheim
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