Scott-Johnson ends storied career

Scott-Johnson ends storied career
December 18
00:00 2014
(pictured above: Denise Scott-Johnson chats with her former supervisor, Nick Jamison.)

The event began with hugs, well-wishes and food and ended with an emotional farewell.

The City of Winston-Salem said goodbye to Denise Scott-Johnson during a retirement send-off on Saturday, Dec. 13 at the Hanes Hosiery Recreation Center.

Denise Scott-Johnson (third from right) sits with loved ones, including her husband Thomas Johnson (second from right)  and her granddaughter Jordyn (far right).

Denise Scott-Johnson (third from right) sits with loved ones, including her husband Thomas Johnson (second from right) and her granddaughter Jordyn (far right).

Scott-Johnson worked in the Recreation and Parks Department for 40 years. She began her career in 1975 , assisting with the programming at neighborhood rec centers on a parttime basis. After just 10 months, She was promoted to a full time assistant recreation center supervisor. In 1977, she became a recreation center supervisor. Scott-Johnson was promoted to district recreation supervisor in 1982 and to assistant recreation director in 1994, making her the first African-American woman to lead the Recreation Division of the Recreation and Parks Department.



“If she has a legacy, it is that she has touched all aspects of the community,” Recreation and Parks Director Tim Grant, Scott-Johnson’s supervisor, said. “She’s really worked with every population, from a child up to seniors.”

Co-workers, friends, family and community members had high praise for Scott-Johnson. City Manager Lee Garrity said, “She’s somebody who put her heart and soul into the community.”

Ben Piggott, senior center supervisor of Carl H. Russell Sr. Community Center, said that Scott-Johnson helped him get a job with the department 25 years ago and has become like family since then.

“She always believes in you,” he said. “That’s why I had to be here.”
Evan Raleigh, an assistant to Garrity, said Scott-Johnson is known for helping and encouraging young African-Americans like him. Her smile has endeared her to him.

“I always remembered that smile,” he said.

Hanes Hosiery Recreation Center's Art Blevins poses with Scott-Johnson.

Hanes Hosiery Recreation Center’s Art Blevins poses with Scott-Johnson.

As assistant recreation director, Scott-Johnson oversaw the operation of the city’s 17 recreation centers, summer recreation sites and the Special Populations Unit, which provides program and services for youth and adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities. She was the department’s coordinator of the anti-drug and-gang Weed and Seed Initiative and helped to implement WinstonNet, a program that has put computer labs in all the recreation centers in the city. Scott-Johnson said if she has a legacy, it is that she helped put public computer labs at all recreation center locations.

Scott-Johnson grew up in Lenoir with five siblings. (Her four surviving siblings attended Saturday’s event.) Her career path started right after she graduated from Appalachian State University in 1974 with a BS degree in sociology, with a concentration in criminology and social control. She started her career at Recreation and Parks Department in 1975. She had wanted a job working in the juvenile justice system, but took the rec and parks position because “things were kind of tough” and she needed a job.

Nick Jamison, who was director of the city’s recreation and parks department at the time, hired her and some others under a federal program designed to put people to work.
“She was truly a dedicated employee,” Jamison said.

“It was enough for me to jump-start a career,” Scott-Johnson said in an interview.
As her career in the department progressed, Scott-Johnson said, “It became a natural fit for me. I could see where sociology would be related.”

While most may not see sociology as part of recreation and parks administration, Scott-Johnson said, in reality, “it’s just the development and betterment of people,” not just working with sports.

She said her motivation was always helping others.
“It wasn’t so much about the position, but for me, it was about being in a position to make a difference,” she said.

Kathy Hamilton Gore, an associate professor of parks, recreation and tourism management at N.C. State University, attests that Scott-Johnson has been a big help.

She said Scott-Johnson helped female members of the North Carolina Recreation & Park Association (NCRPA), which Scott-Johnson once led as president. Gore said Scott-Johnson helped to navigate through the “good-old-boy” system that had long run recreation and parks.

“She has a legacy that people don’t know about,” Gore said, “because Denise showed us how to get it done without getting yourself all cut up and unscathed.”

Thomas Johnson shares remarks during the ceremony.

Thomas Johnson shares remarks during the ceremony.

Scott-Johnson’s husband, Thomas, added levity to the celebration.
“I really wanted to see if Denise really had retired,” he told the 50 to 75 attendees.
Thomas Johnson, who retired from Wachovia/Wells Fargo as a senior vice president in August, described his consort of 31 years as a great wife and good partner.

“Denise loves her co-workers and her family,” he said.
Scott-Johnson addressed the crowd with a slightly quivering voice, thanking them for coming to the event.
“I don’t have the words to say to you guys, that you took your time to spend with us,” she said. “… I feel blessed.”

Scott-Johnson mentioned Tommy Gavin, her mentor who died in 2004 of a heart attack. Gavin, who played football for Wake Forest University in the 1960s and later in the NFL, was an African-American who worked in the department when she came, and he later rose to Parks Superintendent. She later said that it seemed to her that the way people described her at the event is how she thought of Gavin at the time.

Scott-Johnson’s daughter Linda and granddaughter Jordyn said they are happy that she will have more time to spend with them. Scott-Johnson said she will also give some of newly-freed time to her church, United Metropolitan Missionary Baptist, and the Downtown School, where Jordyn is a student.

“I am looking forward to this next part of my career,” she said.

Grant said the assistant recreation director position held by Scott-Johnson will become a district supervisor post. He said he hopes to fill the position in about two months.

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Donna Rogers

Donna Rogers

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