Teacher, Trainer, Consultant, Actress, Storyteller
Jill Johnson, of Langley, Wash., passed away peacefully on May 21, surrounded by her family, at home on the island she loved. She was 79. Jill was an educator all of her life. She was born in Wayzata, Minn. on April 3, 1941. She attended Northrup Collegiate School (now the Blake School) graduating in 1959. She went on to Northwestern University graduating in 1963 and then moved west to become a teacher in Napa, Calif. In 1965, Jill volunteered with U.S. Army Special Services and spent a year in Korea. She returned to California and then, in 1967, volunteered again with Special Services in Vietnam. She was in country during the Tet Offensive in 1968. Jill returned from Vietnam in 1968 and married Lane Wolcott Johnson, of Salem, Ore., on Sept. 4, 1968. Jill and Lane were married over 30 years. Together they joined the U.S. Peace Corps, serving in the Philippines from 1970 to 1972. The two spent five years in the Philippines and their two children were born there in 1971 and 1974. They returned to the United States in 1976 settling in Wisconsin. In 1980, the family moved to Shelton, Wash., where Jill taught ESL to southeast Asian refugees and Lane started private practice as a family physician. Jill also worked as a community health educator for Planned Parenthood. In 1989, the family (minus Philip) moved to Cameroon, West Africa where Lane was a Peace Corps Medical Officer and Jill worked for the United Nations Development Fund and CARE Cameroon. Jill also served as a training coordinator for a group of volunteers evacuated during a coup in neighboring Chad. This led her to serve as a Peace Corps training director in Morocco, the Central African Republic, and the Solomon Islands. Jill and Lane returned from Africa in 1992, moving to Tennessee and then Clinton, Wash., in 1993.
It was during her time in Tennessee that Jill was introduced to storytelling at the National Storytelling Festival. This spawned a 20-year career as a storyteller with performances, workshops, and recordings all over the U.S. and world. Two of Jill’s one-woman shows, “Little, But Oh My! the story of Berte Olson,” and “Rebecca” premiered at the Whidbey Island Center for the Arts (WICA) in Langley, and received national storytelling awards. She also appeared in many WICA productions as an actress including “Barnstorming” and “Little Women” in 2006, “Rabbit Hole” in 2009, “The Full Monty” in 2013, and “Our Town” in 2014. Jill felt that storytelling was what she was born to do, and she was still actively performing just months before her death.
Jill is survived by her son and daughter-in-law, Philip Alan Johnson II and Stacy Johnson, of Salem, Ore.; her daughter and son-in-law, Elizabeth Ceil Short (formerly Pia Elizabeth Johnson) and Luke Short, of San Diego, Calif.; grand-daughter, Erika Elizabeth Johnson; two brothers, George Glass Hoke, of Bolinas, Calif., and Jared Peabody Hoke, of Marine, Minn.; and her former husband, Lane.
Jill was full of passion and energy and threw herself into everything she did. She cared deeply about the world around her and the people in it. She contributed to many charities over the years, both financially and with her time and talents. “I have lived a rich and full life, she said, “I made many mistakes … but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat!”
There will be a celebration of life for Jill in Langley at a future date, once it is safe to do so. Details for the event will be posted to Jill’s Facebook page. In lieu of flowers, please donate in Jill’s name to one of her favorite organizations: Save the Children, Planned Parenthood, Sound Water Stewards, WICA, Whidbey Children’s Theatre, and PBS.