Preston Lawrence Johnson, of Federal Way, Washington, went to be with his Lord peacefully surrounded by his family on Sunday, February 27, 2022 after a short stay on hospice. He was born on August 1, 1936 in Walla Walla, Washington to Lawrence “Larry” J. Johnson and Ruth (Eubanks) Johnson. He is survived by his beloved wife of 60 years, Elizabeth (Strandberg) Johnson. He is lovingly remembered by his daughters, Alisa Johnson and Dina Johnson, his son, Miles Johnson (John), grandchildren, Sophie (formerly called Tristan) Johnson and Ruthrose (formerly called Nicholas) Johnson, his brother Dean W. Johnson, his “adopted” girls, Mai, Donna, Malinda, Alexis and Lindsay, and his many Rinehart cousins.
Preston and his younger brother Dean, grew up in a house built by his father in Dayton, Washington. His dad was a human resources manager at the Green Giant cannery and his mother was a homemaker with an interest in ceramics. Preston delivered the local newspaper with his faithful dog, Blackie, always by his side. He was a member of the Boy Scouts and attended the 1950 National Jamboree in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where he saw his first television. The summer before his senior year of high school he attended the American Legion Boys State program.
During his childhood Preston read almost every book available in the Dayton public and school libraries. Preston dreamed of becoming an attorney, but the prospect of attending law school seemed daunting, so he set that aspiration aside for a time,
After graduating from Dayton High School in 1954, Preston enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, 161st Infantry, Washington National Guard. The $2.60 a drill he was paid was extra spending money for his first year of college. In the fall of 1955 he took Signal Corps training at Camp Gordon, Georgia. Following the training, he returned to Washington State to complete his degree in elementary education at Whitman College. During finals week of their senior year, he and his future wife, Elizabeth Strandberg, went on their first date to the play “Anne of Green Gables,” followed by drinks at the storied Green Lantern Tavern in Walla Walla. Their courtship was largely by mail, as Preston spent three years post-college in the Army stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia. Preston and Liz married on June 17, 1961 in Seattle, Washington.
Many years after they were married, Preston and Liz realized they had met each other prior to their time at Whitman. First, as teenagers swimming at Sun Lakes State Park near Grand Coulee with their younger brothers. They met again at the Pendleton, Oregon train station when a friend of Liz’s from college who was from Dayton introduced them. He was traveling home from his training at Camp Gordon, and she was going home to Seattle on her winter break from Cottey College in Nevada, Missouri. They always said the Lord kept throwing them together until they got it right!
Upon Preston’s discharge from the military in the fall of 1962, Preston and Liz moved to the Seattle area from Georgia, with one month old, Alisa, in tow. Preston quickly obtained an interview for a teaching position with the Federal Way School District. They asked him to start that day. He said, “No, tomorrow” and immediately began teaching fourth grade at Woodmont Elementary and later fifth grade at Panther Lake. Following the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, the Puget Sound experienced a real estate boom. Having just moved and both starting new careers in education, Liz and Preston were low on cash but full of optimism for the future. They channeled this hope into their newly-built, first home in the Twin Lakes neighborhood of Federal Way through a down payment of sweat equity earned by painting the home themselves. (Banks actually allowed that back then!)
1967 was an event-filled year for Preston. He and Liz now had three children under the age of 5 and needed more space. They bought a new home in Federal Way where he lived the rest of his life. He joined the Army Reserves, in which he served until 1978 when he retired as a Reserve Instructor in International Law at Fort Bragg with the rank of Major.
While Preston was applying to schools to fulfill his "fifth year" (post-baccalaureate) program requirement for teaching, he also secretly applied to and was accepted to attend several law schools. He resigned from the Federal Way School District, and started attending classes at the University of Washington School of Law in the summer of 1967, using the GI Bill. The flute-like sounds of the recorder he had taught students to play and the LP of “Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha filled the home. That was how he unwound from the stress of studying.
Preston passed the bar in 1970 on his first attempt and secured a job with the Burlington Northern Railroad Legal Department in Seattle. He quickly learned that corporate life was not for him, so he opened his own general practice law office in 1972, first in Seattle and later moving it to Federal Way.
Work in the Law Office of Preston Johnson became a family affair. Liz joined him as his legal secretary and eventually office manager. At one time or another, all of his children and grandkids put in some time in the office. Alisa, in particular, was his legal assistant for a number of years, bringing Tristan and Nicholas to the office as “official greeters” and “honorary grandchildren” for his clients.
In 1990, he became one of the first local attorneys to specialize in the area of Elder Law. Preston quickly became a respected attorney in that field and in 2001 he was named “Elder Law Member of the Year” by the Washington Chapter of National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA). He mentored a number of young attorneys as they started out until he retired in 2006, when he sold his practice to his mentee Rajiv Nagaich.
In the late 70’s, the Johnson family became active in the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Federal Way. Over the years Preston served on the Vestry, the Endowment Committee, the breakfast ministry for the FW Caregivers, and as a Eucharistic Minister and Intercessor at Sunday services. Not wanting to be “married singles” and realizing they could be more effective as a couple, Preston and Liz volunteered together in Episcopal Marriage Encounter, Cursillo and the Kairos Prison Ministry.
Preston never lost his love of learning. He attended the Episcopal Diocesan School of Theology for a time. He subscribed to Biblical Archeology Review which he always read from cover to cover. He also researched family genealogy, aspired to write screen plays and stories, and amassed a vast and varied store of knowledge over the years.
Preston gave of his time, talent and treasure to individuals and the entire community in ways both big and small - and never with an eye towards gaining attention to himself. He did it because helping others was an integral part of who he was and it fed his soul. During his life in Federal Way, Preston served in many volunteer positions. He was Federal Way Education Association (FWEA) Local National Education Association Chair and travelled to New Jersey as a delegate to the National Education Association (NEA) convention. He served as precinct, area chair, and delegate to state political events. He was a member and officer of the Federal Way Noon Lions Club, the Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Federal Way Community Council.
Always a team, Preston and Liz were a package deal who worked together with many organizations and conventions. They were instrumental in the founding of the South King County Multi-Service Center which has grown to give assistance to more than 40,000 residents annually, with a yearly budget of over $20 million. They volunteered with the Washington Bar Association and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, and served together on the state and national boards of the American Volkssport Association. Though not one to seek the limelight, he was elected to many local, state, regional and national positions in these organizations over the years. He was inducted into the American Volkssport Association Hall of Fame in 2011.
Preston and Liz made the decision to travel before they became too old to do so, They did a volkswalk in every state, all Washington and Oregon counties, several provinces in Canada, Mexico, and England. On their volksmarch in London, Queen Elizabeth waved at them on her way to the opening of Parliament. In Japan, they climbed Mount Fuji and visited temples on Shikoku Island with members of the Japan Walking Association, successfully encouraging them to join the International Volkssport Federation. After their first cruise to Alaska for their 40th Wedding Anniversary, they made cruising their vacation of choice, sailing in the Caribbean, around the Hawaiian Islands, and into the Panama Canal. Their last cruise to Alaska in September 2019 included the whole family.
Preston was blessed with a loving family. He married his best friend, right arm and partner in life, Liz, and spent over 60 joy-filled years with her. Just before he passed, they were touring retirement communities, looking forward to beginning the next chapter of their lives. He helped raise his three children - and numerous “adopted” family members - with love, patience, discipline and humility. He was a deeply spiritual man who remained an educator at heart his entire life. He always had time to answer a question and share a piece of knowledge or a helpful insight. He would often recite a favorite story by Mark Twain or sing a ditty from his favorite childhood comic strip, Pogo, and, right until the end, he always did it from memory.
Though as children we ran from his “peanut butter kisses”, we were so very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn first-hand from his examples of professionalism, community service, and unconditional love. We frequently remark on just how blessed our family is. This is without a doubt because he both taught and demonstrated how to be a family, one that not only loves one another, but likes each other, too. Whether it was his closest friend or a cashier describing him, most would say he was a gentleman or a gentle man. He will be dearly missed by his family, friends, and all who knew him.
The family wishes to express their sincere appreciation to Franciscan Hospice and Palliative Care for making Preston’s passing an opportunity to say goodbye, surrounded by his loved ones. What a blessing hospice is!
Preston’s Celebration of Life will be held on Saturday, June 11, 2022 at 4:00pm at Church of the Good Shepherd – Episcopal, 345 South 312th, Federal Way, Washington. A Zoom live-stream link will be provided for those unable to attend in person.
Should you wish to honor his memory with a donation, may we recommend programs that were near and dear to his heart: the Church of the Good Shepherd Memorial Fund, the American Volkssport Association, the Kairos Prison Ministry or the Multi-Service Center.
The Evergreen State Volkssport Association, the Emerald City Wanders and SeaTac Volkssports Club are planning to host a volksmarch this summer to further celebrate Preston’s contributions to the volkssporting community. Details will be provided at ESVA.org when they are finalized.
“It always is harder to be left behind than to be the one to go...”
― Bodie Thoene