TOP STORY: Remembering OOIDA’s First Lady, Mary Johnston

| 10/16/2008

Mary Johnston

From her days as a waitress who offered a home-cooked meal to a good guy who drove a truck, to her role as a relentless champion for truckers nationwide, Mary Johnston was always about the good guy. Today drivers and their families across America mourn her loss.

Mary Johnston was born in Grafton, WV, on Feb. 24, 1938, the daughter of Theodore and Mary Carroll. She died on Thursday, Oct. 16, at the home she shared with her husband, Jim Johnston, after bravely battling leukemia for more than two years.

She first met Jim Johnston in the early ’60s in Milan, IL. In the early ’70s they moved to Grain Valley, MO, when Jim got a job trucking for All Star Dairy in Lawrence, KS.

In the fall of 1973, her husband’s job driving a truck was beset by the crippling effects of an Arab oil embargo. Mary and Jim – who often trucked together – became activists for an industry facing a growing list of desperations. The association they helped establish in the fall of 1973 – the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association – experienced funding and organizational pains in the first years. The couple married in 1974 and 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.” Mary never doubted his vision.

Because of his need to divide his time between operating his trucking business and the Association, one truck had already been lost to repossession and the other was on the edge. One or the other had to go. The choice the Johnstons made is obvious.

It wasn’t too many years, though, before OOIDA needed Mary at the group’s headquarters full time. Soon, she took charge of “business services,” a one-man or – more accurately – a one-woman operation.

Mary, armed with a phone, a desk and one hellacious set of street smarts, performed collections of bad debts for truckers, bringing in money that carriers, brokers or shippers owed, but would not pay, to OOIDA members. It was first simply called “collections,” and sometimes it was just the “problem-solving” department.

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 into a staff of 17 by the time she retired in March 2003.

During her retirement years, Mary and Jim bought a small resort on Lake Pomme de Terre in Wheatland, MO. Dividing her time between her home in rural Grain Valley and the Ozark countryside, Willow Winds Resort became her pride and joy.

Mary is survived by her husband Jim, one sister, two daughters, nine grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.

Services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 21 at Hathaway-Peterman Funeral Home on Highway 54 in Wheatland, MO. Visitation will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday at the funeral home. Burial will be immediately following the services.

– By Land Line staff