Stephen Christopher Johnson, 77, a lifelong resident of Chebeague Island, passed away from a stroke at Maine Medical Center in Portland on May 21, 2023, with his family by his side.
Stephen was born in Portland on October 23, 1945, the youngest child of Sherman Roberts and Eleanor Soule Johnson. He attended Chebeague schools in a class of four–all named Stephen! After attending Greely Institute, he joined the Navy in 1965, where he served as a pipe fitter during the Vietnam War. Stephen was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with two stars, and the Vietnam Campaign Medal with Device, which was awarded by the South Vietnamese government.
While growing up on Chebeague, Stephen developed a love of the natural world and a respect for the sea. Upon discharge from the Navy, Stephen returned to Chebeague and the lobstering career that he had left behind. During the next five decades Stephen mentored dozens of young men and women–both summer and year-round residents–who worked on the stern of his lobster boat. His easy-going manner and calm demeanor endeared him to all who worked with him. Stephen loved the solitude of the sea and was known to the younger lobstermen as “Mr. Johnson,” which in a community where small children call octogenarians by their first name, was more of a term of endearment and respect than an obligatory title. Stephen was all set for this year’s lobster season. His boat was ready to be launched and his gear was being rigged when he passed.
While the sea was Stephen’s preferred workplace, he also had a land-based career as a third-generation master plumber. Although he considered plumbing secondary to lobstering, he could be counted on in an emergency, even during “shedder season.”
On December 4, 1971, Stephen married Beverly Ross, a summer girl, and they made Chebeague their home. They both had unapparelled work ethics, were committed to family, and loved the natural world. They hiked, watched birds, played golf and went ice fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling, cross country skiing, lobstering, and plumbing together. In 1973, Stephen Johnson became the first and to date the only year-round islander to win the Great Chebeague Golf Club Championship. Theirs was a perfect match, for they gave each other the freedom to do what made each of them happy. On more than one occasion, Stephen, who was proud of Bev’s accomplishments, jokingly referred to each of Bev’s many activities as her “hobby of the month,” and she was grateful for the hot meals he frequently made!
Over the years, Bev and Stephen opened their home to many nieces and nephews and shared their many interests with them. Stephen was a role model to all of them. In the late 1990s, the Johnsons decided to have a family of their own. They travelled to Russia and adopted siblings, Dennis (7) and Darya (5). They thought their family was complete until Dennis learned enough English to tell them about an older sister who was still in Russia. After some research, they located Viktoria (12) and immediately started the process to reunite the siblings. All three of the Johnson children agree that Stephen and Beverly literally saved their lives and gave them love and opportunities that were more than they could have ever dreamed. They describe Stephen as the best father anyone could have. He was quiet but all-knowing! His silence spoke volumes, but when he did speak, his words were nuggets of wisdom. He was always present, supportive, and discrete. A tilt of the head, a raise of an eyebrow, or a touch on the shoulder said it all. He was a devoted Papa to granddaughters Riley and Evie, who adored him.
The natural world helped to define Stephen Johnson. As a young man, he was a respectful hunter who ate what he killed, but as time went on, he put away his guns and concentrated on keeping the birds and animals fed, even to the point, as his family attests to, raising a garden to feed the deer! He even practiced catch and release with mice! Wandering the woods and shores of Chebeague looking for a raven in Littlefield Woods or digging a mess of clams on the Back Shore, made Stephen happy. Over the years, many animals were lucky enough to be part of the Johnson household. Stephen was devoted to his many cats and dogs, who were like members of the family. He was an animal whisperer of sorts. His dogs were his constant companions, and he took them lobstering and on walks all over the island.
He was also very inquisitive. He read National Geographic and the Smithsonian from cover to cover and enjoyed watching programs about nature.
Stephen was a rock for his nuclear and extended families. He was a devoted son, brother, husband, father, father-in-law, grandfather, uncle, and friend. He was a good provider and did whatever was asked of him. He was a kind, compassionate, encouraging, supportive man, with a strong moral compass and the “patience of Job.” He gave those around him the freedom to be themselves and provided unwavering support. Stephen Johnson touched many people in his quiet, unassuming way and has left the Chebeague community in mourning.
Stephen was predeceased by his parents, his sister, Pamela Johnson, and brother, Peter Johnson. He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Beverly Ross Johnson; children, Viktoria Wood (Thomas) of Chebeague, Dennis Johnson of North Carolina, and Darya Johnson of Portland; and granddaughters Riley Adamaitis and Evelyn Wood. He is also survived by many loving and devoted nieces and nephews.
A graveside celebration of Stephen’s life will take place on Saturday, June 17, at 1:15 PM at the Chebeague Cemetery. Transportation will be provided from the Stone Wharf to the Cemetery and to the Johnson’s home, where a celebration of Stephen's life will follow.
In lieu of flowers, contributions in Stephen Johnson’s memory may be made to The Recompense Fund, PO Box 24, Chebeague Island, ME 04017 (https://www.recompensefund.com/) or a charity of your choice.
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