Richard Paul (Jenks) Johnson died peacefully in his sleep in the arms of his wife on Sept. 3, after a nearly six-month battle with brain cancer.
He was born Aug. 23, 1950, in Modesto, Calif., to Jerome and Eleanor (Cesander) Jenks, the youngest of three children.
Johnson studied physics at UC-Berkeley from 1968-70, where he served as president of the Nu Chapter of the TKE Fraternity. One of his roommates at Cal was Patrick Reynolds, the son of tobacco giant RJ Reynolds, and Johnson participated in a small part of Reynolds’ film that later received an award at Cannes (Johnson drove a car around People’s Park while Reynolds shot footage from the trunk). It was in Berkeley that he met his lifelong partner, Kathleen Johnson, who was attending a nearby nursing college.
The couple married on Aug. 15, 1970, in Carson City, Nev., and lived in Oakland. Their first child, Justin, was born the following year, and, deciding they wanted to raise their children in a more rural atmosphere, they proceeded to move to the Philomath area. They rented a place in the country from Rex Clemens, who told them about the beauty and solitude of Eastern Oregon, where they would end up making their home many years later.
The couple was blessed with five more children in the next 10 years: Brett, Jennifer, Zachary, Tiffany and Jeromy.
Johnson loved kids and when a new one would arrive, he would say, “There’s always room for one more.”
While raising six kids, running a small lumber company, and working as a research assistant and consultant, Johnson was also able to complete his education. He obtained his bachelor of science in nuclear engineering in 1974 and his master of science in nuclear engineering in 1982, both from Oregon State University. Johnson belonged to Alpha Nu Sigma Fraternity at OSU.
After obtaining his master’s degree, Johnson worked at Westinghouse Electric Company in Pennsylvania for a year, where the family lived in a 100-year-old farmhouse, before being hired by Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico. He was a very early user of E-mail while there and predicted it would be a huge part of our lives in the future. After five years in the suburbs, Johnson was ready to return to the country, and he and his wife bought a place on Crane-Buchanan Road in Harney County. Johnson was a pilot and continued working for LANL by commuting back and forth in his plane, spending several weeks at each place.
In 1990, Johnson worked in England as a visiting scientist on exchange from LANL for a year and took his wife and all six kids with him to experience the culture of another country. Seven countries wanted him as a visiting scientist, but he chose England. They spent that summer making many good, often humorous, and always adventurous memories traveling and camping throughout Europe in an old VW van. Johnson had the opportunity to travel often through his work and took his wife and kids with him when he was able.
In the late 1990s, Johnson developed a passion for telecommuting (having commuted to a job for such long distances for so many years) and founded the Telecommuting Safety and Health Benefits Institute. He spent the next decade working as an Independent Nuclear Engineering Consultant, as well as filling in occasionally as a substitute teacher at Crane Union High School, where he enjoyed passing on his knowledge.
In 2008, Johnson moved to Corvallis to work as a senior engineer for NuScale Power, Inc., working in nuclear safety, but retired a little over a year later. He didn’t like having to be so far away from his family. He attended Beaver games whenever he could while he was in Corvallis and was excited to have attended the football game that year when OSU upset USC.
Johnson served as a volunteer member of the Harney County Planning Commission and was a member of ANS and the OSU Flying Club.
Johnson loved to hunt, fish, camp and just spend time in the great outdoors. He loved country living and the open sky of Eastern Oregon. He also loved to travel, thus many a summer was spent traveling and camping all over the United States with his family in tow. His favorite place to camp was at Trout Farm in the Logan Valley area in Northeast Oregon. He loved meeting new people and could often be found chatting with strangers.
Johnson was health- and safety-oriented. He made sure he and his equipment were both in good working condition before traveling anywhere in anything. Exercise and eating a healthy diet were always important to him, and became even more so after he survived non-Hodgkins lymphoma cancer in 2005.
Family was so important to Johnson. He cherished his children, and absolutely loved being a grandparent. He encouraged his children to be hard-working, well-educated and family-oriented and to enjoy life as much as possible. He was proud that all six of his children were college graduates.
More than anything else in the world, Johnson loved his wife, his sweetheart, Kate. For their 23rd anniversary, he took his wife’s maiden name as his own, telling her she had shared his name with him for all these years, and now he wanted to share hers. He was a romantic at heart, and even though he had to spend so much time away from his wife over the years, he always took the time to send her flowers or a poem or just a note to let her know he cared.
Johnson is survived by his wife, Kathleen Johnson, of rural Harney County; sons, Justin Jenks of McMinnville, Brett Jenks, and wife, Ryan, of Waitsburg, Wash., Zachary Jenks of Burns, and Jeromy Jenks, and wife, Erin, of Benton City, Wash.; daughters, Jennifer Jenks of Hines and Tiffany Jenks of Portland; granddaughters, Elina Jenks and Kaylani Kam; and grandson, Logan Jenks.
He is also survived by sisters, Jeanette Manning and Barbara Ramp; aunt, Harriet Price; and numerous nieces and nephews and their families.
Johnson was preceded in death by his parents, Jerome Jenks and Eleanor Jenks.
A memorial service was held Sept. 11 in Crane. Contributions in Johnson’s memory may be made to Harney County Home Health and Hospice or to an educational fund for his grandchildren, in care of Kate Johnson, 69854 Crane-Buchanan Road, Burns, OR 97720.