Remembering OOIDA’s First Lady Mary Johnston

Mary Maxine Johnston was born in Grafton, WV, on Feb. 24, 1938, to Ted and Mary (Dwyer) Carroll. Mary died on Thursday, Oct. 16, at the home she shared with her husband, OOIDA’s President and CEO Jim Johnston. She had bravely battled leukemia for more than two years.

Mary and Jim met in the early ’60s in Milan, IL, about the same time Jim started his trucking career. In 1968, they moved to Missouri when Jim got a job trucking for All Star Transportation in Lawrence, KS. In those days, Mary and Jim often trucked together.

Of the dozens of stories about Mary’s driving days, one favorite sticks out in Jim’s mind. Mary loved driving, but she “didn’t do scales or inspections.”

One day Mary was driving and Jim was in the bunk. Mary noticed an inspection site had been set up at an Ohio rest area just ahead. Yes, Mary thought briefly about driving right past it but thought better of that idea at the last minute. She pulled onto the entrance ramp, banged on the side of the bunk and yelled for Jim to wake up and get behind the wheel.

She slipped over to the jump seat, grabbed her knitting bag and began to knit. Within seconds, Jim had pulled on a shirt and hopped into the driver’s seat. Since she had stopped on the ramp, the line of trucks she had just passed were all lining up behind.

When Jim pulled up to the inspection site, the inspector walked up to the truck, asked a few questions and then asked if Jim had a fire extinguisher and could he see it. Jim reluctantly opened the door to show him.

The inspector looked up at Jim and said, “Driving a little casual, aren’t you?”

While Jim did have time to get his shirt on, he didn’t have time to pull on his pants or boots. The inspector, knowing full well what had happened, told them to “just get the hell out of here.” Mary just kept on knitting and tried her best to look innocent.

In the fall of 1973, the job of driving a truck was overwhelmed by the crippling effects of the Arab oil embargo. Mary and Jim quickly became activists for an industry faced with a growing list of desperations. The association they helped to establish – the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association – experienced funding and organizational pains in the early years. During the tough times, Mary worked at a nursing home so Jim could put his time into building the Association.

By 1975, most of the Association’s founding members had returned to full-time operation of their businesses. Jim Johnston had been elected president of OOIDA, its third president since its founding a year earlier. Jim said he was the “only one left and too dumb or stubborn to know when to quit.”

Luckily, Jim had found in Mary a partner who didn’t know the meaning of the word “quit” either. She never doubted his vision.

It wasn’t long before the Johnstons had a decision to make. Trying to divide their time between the Association and the trucking business was proving to be too much. One had to go. The choice they made is obvious, and OOIDA got Jim full time.

It wasn’t too long before OOIDA needed Mary full time, too. There were membership applications to process, newsletters to mail, and phone calls to answer. Mary did all of that and more. She was never afraid of hard work.

Soon, she took charge of assisting members with collection problems, a one-woman operation. Mary, armed with a telephone and her desire to stick up for the “little guy,” collected debts for truckers. She brought in money that carriers, brokers and shippers owed but would not pay to OOIDA members.

To say she was tenacious would be an understatement. Jim recalls a meeting he had with Bernie Gaillard who had just been appointed head of the Office of Enforcement at the Interstate Commerce Commission.

Bernie interrupted the meeting to take a phone call. Jim heard him say, “Mary? How did you get my private number? Yes, Mary. Yes, Mary. OK, Mary. I’ll look into it, but please don’t call me on this number anymore. Yes, Mary. Yes, Mary. Goodbye, Mary.”

Executive Vice President Todd Spencer recalls that in the early days of the Association, Mary knew virtually every single member by name.

“She knew everyone. If you got ripped off, she was the one to call,” he said. “She took it personally. And she did not just make a call to the company that owed our member money; she called the president of that company. She went to the top and got results.”

By 1989, Mary had a better record on collecting sums of unpaid money for truckers than did the Interstate Commerce Commission – the agency charged with enforcing the regulations. Her success soon earned her a staff and an official department title of supervisor of Business Services.

Mary’s department grew to a team of 17 by the time she retired in March 2003.

Retirement was something Mary looked forward to; however, it took all of about three weeks before she grew bored and decided she needed a project to occupy her time. Having always enjoyed time at Lake Pomme de Terre in Wheatland, MO, Mary decided to buy a small resort and try her hand as a business owner.

That small retirement “project” soon became a full-time job. In no time, Willow Winds Resort grew from a few rooms to 27 rooms. She expanded the dock facilities and upgraded the playground, too. Hands down, her facility is the nicest one on the lake, and you would be hard pressed to find a summer weekend when the resort is not completely full.

It’s so difficult to put the entire lifetime of such an amazing person into just a few words. But for those who knew Mary, her successes – both at OOIDA and Willow Winds – were not surprising. Mary was determined ... and stubborn! “Quit” and “failure” were words Mary did not know.

She loved putting her heart into something and seeing the results of those efforts. She worked hard, but she also truly enjoyed life. She laughed hard and laughed often. Mary loved her family, her pets, her horses and spending time at the lake. Mary always had a smile on her face and a mischievous twinkle in her eye.


Mary is survived by her husband Jim; two daughters, Joy Marsolf of Oak Grove, MO, and Peggy Hennon of Independence, MO; one sister, Virginia Moutrey of Wheatland, MO; nine grandchildren; and many great-grandchildren.