George W. Johnson - the owner and founder of our company - recently celebrated his 90th birthday, and as a further tribute to him, family, friends and staff arranged a Ballard Billboard Surprise for him near our Ballard offices.
George was delighted to be able to share his celebration with the Ballard community, and subsequently the local newspaper - The Ballard News-Tribune - picked up on it and ran an article as a tribute to George. Also the Greater Puget Sound Edition of the Broker Agent Magazine ran a similar article. Both articles are shown below.
Following we have transcripts of two articles written about George as he celebrated his 90th birthday.
Ballard News -Tribune, Seattle.
For George Johnson, all his memories are fond
by Dean Wong, News-Tribune - December 25th 2002
When George Johnson turned 90 years last week, he received one birthday greeting that wouldn't fit on his desk: a billboard featuring a prominent reproduction of Johnson's signature cartoon logo (see right). The billboard - purchased by family and friends - also read, "Please join us in wishing George a very Happy 90th Birthday."
Johnson is the owner of Johnson Realty and Insurance, a long time Ballard business on 15th Avenue Northwest. The billboard was an unexpected tribute. "I was completely surprised," Johnson said. The cartoon shows Johnson wearing a brown hat, blue suit and white shoes. He clutches a pen in his right hand and offers a broad smile to passersby. Indeed, he looks like he's ready to close on a real estate deal. Beneath the cartoon are the words that symbolize Johnson's dedication to service: "Let George do it (for you)."
The cartoon was created by Johnson's cousin as a unique "signature" look. "Way back when I first started out, I was looking for something to stand out from everyone else. My cousin was an artist. He came up with the design," said Johnson.
Born and raised in South Dakota during the Great Depression, Johnson and his wife Clarice at one time taught all eight grades in a one-room schoolhouse. In 1935, the couple loaded up their Model A and moved to Seattle so that Johnson could attend Seattle Pacific College. (Johnson's parents followed him to Seattle and opened a dairy farm where Viewlands Elementary currently stands.)
Johnson taught at an elementary school and sold real estate during his spare time. After a year he began selling real estate full time. In 1947 he opened his business in a small, one bedroom house just north of his present Crown Hill office. Over the years, Johnson added insurance and accounting services to his business.
While other real estate business have gone under, or have been bought up by larger companies, George Johnson Realty and Insurance has prospered. Over the years, the company has gained generations of Ballard families as clients.
"Most of our business is repeat and referral, selling houses to grandkids of people," Johnson says.
As a businessman, Johnson believes in providing good service. "Honesty and no pressure. Treat people like you would to be treated. Listen more than you talk." Even after 65 years in the business, Johnson is not one to stay home. He still works five days a week or more. "I go home at noon on Saturdays." he confesses.
Since 1947, honesty the best policy for real estate icon
He also provided another reason for his schedule: "If I stayed at home, I would drive my wife nuts."
Fortunately, his office is a mere five minutes away from the Interbay Golf Course, where he has a couple of holes in one to his credit. Johnson describes himself as a Fair Weather Golfer. "That means you practice at it, as opposed to being real good. I like the game, the exercise, and the people I play with," he says.
In his office he displays photographs of his golfing friends and pictures of himself with former President Ronald Reagan. He also has a photograph of President George W. Bush and first Lady Laura Bush. In tribute to the past, he also points out the photographs of his parents and of the one-room schoolhouse where he and his wife taught.
Special birthday greetings are nothing new for George. Two years ago, the Ballard High School Marching Band paid a surprise visit to Johnson's office during his birthday party - even though he is not a graduate of the school. (A friend with connections arranged the special serenade.)
As he looks back over 65 years of selling real estate and finding homes for people, Johnson said all his memories are fond and that he could not pick out one favorite moment.
Although the community has been content to, as the sign says, "Let George Do It, it's obvious that they feel it's equally important to "do" for George.
* Senior Realtor Still Going Strong...
George Johnson has perhaps the longest perspective on Seattle's real estate market of any Realtor in town.
When he turned 90 at the end of last year (2002) he also tallied his 55th year in real estate. George emigrated to Seattle from South Dakota in the late 1930s, his pregnant wife by his side in their Model A Coupe. Living first in Queen Anne, they eventually settled in Ballard where George worked a variety of jobs to survive the Depression.
In 1935, at the suggestion of a man he met while buying some coal, George sent five dollars to Olympia to purchase his real estate license. He began selling property in the afternoons after his pre-dawn job at a dairy and his morning shift at a local bakery. A year later he made real estate his full-time career and in 1947 founded founded George W. Johnson Realty in Ballard.
At one time his wife and four children were all agents working with George. Today his company includes his son and son-in-law on the real estate side and another son, two grandsons and a great granddaughter on the insurance end. George himself still comes to the office every day in suit and tie, commanding the office nearest the front door so he can greet every customer. "I know just about everyone in Ballard," he says, "and I've worked for the children and grandchildren of some of my first clients."
The most revolutionary and advantageous change George has seen in his long career was the advent of the Multiple Listing Service, of which he was a founding member. "Before that, it was just dog eat dog with each listings," he recalls. His keen familiarity with neighborhoods bordering the Ship Channel means he's still actively involved in many CMA's although he confesses that sunny days may find him doing a "nine hole appraisal" at the nearby Interbay Golf Course.
In 1999 George was recognized by SKCAR with its special Realtor Emeritus award.
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