Johnson remembered for matter-of-fact charm
Maureen Kay "Pete" Johnson wouldn't want a moment of silence in her honor.
She might go for a moment of giggling in the courthouse hallway or an early morning session of coffee and doughnuts.
Then, after those moments had passed and the coffee and doughnuts were gone, her friends could utter the phrase she used in times of crisis—"we're good, we're good"—and then get back to the business of living without her.
Johnson—Rock County deputy clerk, quick wit, public servant extraordinaire and ersatz aunt to many people—died Tuesday night at home. The cause was small-cell cancer, said Rock County Clerk Lori Stottler.
Johnson was 62 years old and had just retired from a life of public service. Her face was familiar to thousands of people who came through the door of the clerk's office for marriage or fishing licenses, passports, questions about voting and myriad other services.
As a public servant, she was friendly but firm—willing to ask "God himself for additional ID if the law required it," as one of her friends put it.
She also was a familiar face in the community, a person with an unrivaled network of friends and fans ranging from ordinary folks to elected officials.
What made her so remarkable? Johnson's friends and colleagues all used the same words to describe her: authentic, frank, funny and always ready to go for a burger and a beer at the end of the workweek.
"There wasn't a day of fake in her," Stottler said "She knew how to use words to brighten a room. It wasn't a ooey-gooey kind of sweetness, though. It was matter-of-fact."
Steve Schraufnagel from the Rock County Planning Department was Johnson's friend for more than 30 years.
"She didn't have a disingenuous bone in her body," he said. "She was frank. She was honest—really the kind of friend you wanted to have."
Another longtime friend, Jane Colby, said "Pete was genuinely a true friend to so many people."
A hospital volunteer, Colby sometimes saw Johnson when she came in for chemotherapy.
"When she lost hair, she named her wig 'Zoe,'" Colby said. "She'd say, 'How do you like Zoe?'"
Colby struggled to describe her friend's qualities, the light she seemed to bring with her wherever she went, and her ability to make friends.
"I was just saying to somebody that Pete knew God and everybody," Colby said. "Then I thought, 'Well, maybe I shouldn't have said that, but now Pete does know God and everybody. She's sitting up there right now.'"
And she's probably making somebody laugh or telling God, firmly but kindly, that he needs a Wisconsin ID to qualify for a residential fishing license.