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James E. Johnson, a Wilmington native whose humility, strict work ethic and love of family defined his life, died Tuesday, May 1. He was 90.
The son of Eleanor Gibbons and James W. Johnson, owner of the former Johnson’s Meat Market on King Street in downtown Wilmington, Mr. Johnson graduated from Archmere Academy in 1946, where he was a three-letter athlete in baseball, basketball and football. But it was baseball that led him to Villanova University, where he was a pitcher and first baseman.
From Villanova, he signed a series of minor league contracts with affiliates of the Brooklyn Dodgers and was assigned to spring training camp in Vero Beach, Fla., with such Dodger greats as Jackie Robinson, Duke Snyder and Gil Hodges. True to his humble nature, he rarely spoke about that experience, but when asked once what he remembered from those days, he responded, “Vero Beach had the freshest orange juice I ever tasted.”
Mr. Johnson also served as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and later joined the U.S. Postal Service, where he worked as a letter carrier for 35 years.
Among his honors, Mr. Johnson was humbled by his induction into the Delaware Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012. Yet it was his 1982 selection to the Kennett Square, Pa., Old Timers Baseball Association Hall of Fame at Burton’s Barbershop—a local monument to the sport—that tickled him for years.
He was most proud of his family, especially his devoted wife, Margaret Moore Johnson, to whom he was married for 60 years until her death in 2014. They had six children, who inherited his devotion to sports and often saw him cheering them on at baseball and football fields and at his only daughter’s high school basketball games.
Mr. Johnson is preceded in death by his parents, his brothers, Dr. Robert Johnson and William Johnson; sister, Eleanor Ann Johnson Smith; wife, Margaret Moore Johnson; and a son, Casey Johnson. He is survived by four sons and daughter and their spouses: Christopher and Jean Johnson, Kevin and Gebe Martinez Johnson, Margaret and David Bailey, Andrew and Wendy Johnson, and Matthew and Amy Johnson; six grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at St. Anthony of Padua Church, 9th and DuPont Sts., Wilmington, DE, Wednesday, May 9 at 11:00AM. A visitation will be held in church, prior to Mass, at 10:30AM. Burial will be at the Delaware Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Bear, DE.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Delaware Baseball Hall of Fame (DBCA), c/o Bob Colburn, 153 E. 2nd St., New Castle, DE 19720; or the Lorelton Foundation, 2200 W. 4th St., Wilmington, DE 19805.
Delaware Baseball Hall of Fame
c/o Bob Colburn, 153 2nd Street, New Castle DE 19720
2200 West 4th Street, Wilmington DE 19805