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A Special Person

Johnny was a dear, dear friend for over 35 years.

It was after his playing days at The University of Tennessee before I met Johnny. But make no mistake, he was quite a player. He played what was called at the time "middle guard". Now its known as nose tackle, or nose guard. He played alongside the late Hall of Famer Reggie White. The two also shared an apartment. Johnny's senior year, he recorded 61 tackles, which is quite a high number for a middle guard, along with 2 blocked punts.

Johnny was quick to put his playing days behind. He once told me that was an earlier life. This was consistent as Johnny lived in the moment. When he was talking to you, there were no distractions. His focus was totally on you. He had a special way of making you feel important and lifting your spirits.

In the late 1990's, the Vols had an early September game in Pasadena vs. UCLA. We, Jon Reginald Ransom (Memphis), Jon Blount (D.C. at the time) and myself (Atlanta), took the opportunity to fly out to San Diego for the weekend with Johnny. I think we arrived on that Thursday afternoon, and spent Friday in Tijuana, the four of us Frat Brothers. (We were told we really enjoyed ourselves). On Saturday morning, Johnny took us to a Jewish deli for a hearty breakfast, before driving up to the Rose Bowl for the game. (Yes, the Vols won.) It was a fabulous weekend that I still cherish.

Not many years after that, I visited San Diego with my family. Johnny took some days off work to serve as our host/guide. I remember him and Rachel taking us for the requisite visit to the San Diego Zoo, and a children's museum. We had a nice dinner with him and Rea. He was quite the host. Of course, when out and about, we had to make sure Johnny kept up with us, since he was so prone to falling into a deep conversation with somebody he met all of 30 seconds ago. As Joyce so accurately says, he never met a stranger.

In 2008, I wasn't doing well. Having been diagnosed with Stage 3B colon cancer, I had undergone radiation treatments, colon resection surgery and was in the middle of chemotherapy. I wasn't eating and was dropping weight dangerously fast. At this time, my wife and mother combined forces and decided the situation called for Johnny. Within days, he dropped everything to fly cross country and spend 4-5 days with me. Each morning, we would go out and eat a hearty breakfast. We would spend hours just the two of us in my mancave. He shared his favorite scriptures and his plan for salvation. He was a Godsend.

We kept up over the years with phone calls and texts that were invaluable and will be greatly missed.

His was, no still is, a friendship that I will always cherish.

God Bless

Mark Withrow

Frat Brother and Friend

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