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Search for J. Fred Johnson ends at Oak Hill

VINCE STATEN • Jun 14, 2013 at 12:13 AM

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about searching for J. Fred Johnson’s first name (it’s John) and that got Lois Ann Boyer Southard thinking about the man many call the “Father of Kingsport.”

“For some reason for the last several months I have wondered where he is buried. I’ve asked around, gone online, and looked Oak Hill Cemetery over. I know you can find the answer.”

Logic would dictate that the Father of Kingsport would be buried in Oak Hill, the city’s first cemetery.

And he is. You just have to look long and hard. (Or ask at the office.)

I chose to look long and hard. It wouldn’t be a very interesting column if I just asked at the office.

J. Fred Johnson died in 1944 so he should be in one of the older sections.

I drove around looking for older graves. And the first thing I spotted, the first grave that stood out, was a 14-foot tall monument in Section E, right at the crest of the hill.

I wandered over and there, carved in the monument, was not the name Johnson. It was the name Dobyns, a very famous surname in Kingsport: Dobyns-Bennett, Dobyns-Taylor Hardware, Dobyns Addition.

A metal plaque explains that this monument, easily the most conspicuous one in the cemetery, is for James Wiley Dobyns, “The First Mayor of Kingsport,” who died in 1923 at age 56. His epitaph: “A Christian living the faith and never faltering in his duty to God or his service to mankind. He wrought ably and with unselfish devotion for his beloved city, making it the better for his coming and leaving to posterity the influence of a noble life.”

I started looking around. And not 20 feet away, in a nondescript grave — no headstone, just a long, flat marker — was the tomb of J. Fred Johnson. Johnson is surrounded by the women in his life.

His mother, “Mary Peirce Early, wife of J. Lee Johnson 1855-1933,” is at his head. (That’s the way Peirce is spelled on the tombstone.) His first wife, Ruth Evelyn Carter Johnson, who died in 1933, is at his right. His second wife, Elizabeth Doggett Johnson, who died in 1981, is buried to his left.

If he is facing up in his casket, and I assume he is, then vice versa: his first wife is on his left side and his second wife is on the right. I have no idea if this has any significance.

There are no inscriptions on his stone, not even a Biblical quote, unusual, I think, for the grave of this deeply religious man. Just a simple carving: J. Fred Johnson 1874-1944.

The only noteworthy feature is that J. Fred Johnson is on a hill overlooking the town that he devoted his life to developing and building.

The trouble with DST

Howard Doyle had a thought on Daylight Savings Time. “Remember when we’d be reminded to change the batteries in our smoke detectors when we changed the clocks? Well, that is no longer practical, since Daylight Savings Time now lasts for eight months, and Standard Time lasts only four months. So I have an idea that I thought you might want to pass along to your readers: Select two dates that are six months apart — dates that you will easily remember — and change the batteries then. For instance, my mother’s birthday is Dec. 10, and my brother’s birthday is June 5, so that’s when I change mine. Two easy-to-remember dates, six months apart (+ 5 days, but that’s okay.)”

Contact Vince Staten at vincestaten@timesnews.net or via email in care of this newspaper. Voicemail may be left at 723-1483. His blog can be found at vincestaten.blogspot.com.

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