RALEIGH — State Rep. Linda Johnson (R-Cabarrus), senior chair for House Appropriations and K-12 Education, passed away Feb. 18 after a short battle with several interrelated diagnoses. The response by those in her hometown of Kannapolis, in state government in Raleigh and across the state continued for days by those whose lives she had affected.
Johnson, 74, served 10 terms in the North Carolina General Assembly and was known as a tough negotiator and tireless worker. It was these work habits that her legislative assistant, Rhonda Todd, said led her to, at times, push past health concerns.
“Her family and the constituents of North Carolina were her priority and her passion. Rep. Johnson had minimal personal time at the end of her day, which eventually impacted her health,” Todd said, citing her role as a primary negotiator for a $28 billion budget and the K-12 education policy chair.
Todd said Johnson had anticipated using the adjournment of the legislature to address some health concerns but sitting long hours in budget negotiations had taken a toll on her health. The pain from a needed hip replacement was also exacerbating her elevated blood pressure. During an appointment with her orthopedic surgeon, Johnson’s blood pressure was dangerously high and she was advised to seek immediate emergency assistance. While being treated for her elevated blood pressure, Johnson had imaging to her head which revealed cancerous tumors on her brain — but the blood pressure ended up being the cause of death.
After her passing, leaders of the state, from both chambers of the legislature and from both political parties, released statements mourning her passing and celebrating her life.
“I know I speak for all my colleagues that she represented the very best of North Carolina and will always be remembered for her kind nature and powerful voice for public schools,” said N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain).
“Rep. Johnson’s spirit and enthusiasm will be missed in the General Assembly,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden). “She was a fierce advocate for education and never lost her focus amid even the most stressful budget negotiations.”
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, ordered flags across the state be lowered to half-mast and released a statement, saying, “Kristin and I send our deep condolences to the family and friends of NC Rep. Linda Johnson. She served our state with honor and distinction and we are grateful for her life and service.”
The North Carolina Research Campus, a public health research facility in Kannapolis which Johnson fought hard to fund, said they were going to hold a celebration of her life.
Kannapolis Mayor Darrell Hinnant, according to Todd, also indicated he was considering having funeral services at the city hall so more people could attend, as well as creating a “Linda Johnson Day.”
“I was shocked that my friend had passed. We raised our kids in the same neighborhood,” Hinnant said in a social media post. “The legislature is going to miss Linda, our region will miss her. And I will miss her too. Pray for Ronnie, Roger and Byron, I know that would be her departing request.”
Johnson loved painting, gardening, her church and her family. She met her husband, Ronnie, when they were only 5 years old and were married 54 years. Those close to them described them as sweethearts and their relationship as “lightning in a bottle.”
“The Johnson home was a refuge,” Todd said. “Their home was always available to nurture the body and soul.”
People came over because they knew Johnson and her family would welcome them. Sometimes people would just be there inside waiting for them when they got home. One of Johnson’s three sons, Ben, died unexpectedly in 2019, and this tragedy weighed heavily on the family. But Ben had been the same type of compassionate person as his mother, according to the stories that flooded in about him after his death. When a neighbor’s husband was deployed to Iraq, he just began mowing their lawn every week without being asked.
“That’s just the type of people they are. They’re just remarkable,” Todd said. “Servanthood was Rep. Johnson’s passion. Linda was truly a Proverbs 31 woman. In her personal, spiritual and elected life, she was a faithful servant.”