Randy Smith: Remembering The Great Buck Johnson

Monday, June 29, 2020 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith

I never knew what Buck Johnson's real name was. I finally found out when I read his obituary on Sunday morning. Clay Mills Johnson served the Chattanooga community as a well-respected educator, coach and principal for 30 years before retiring in 1979. But retirement was the furthest thing in Buck's mind. You see in the later years of his educational career, Buck had begun to work part-time for the Chattanooga Times in the sports department. When he hung up his coaching whistle for good in 1979, he became the newspaper's sports editor. Buck held that position until he finally retired for good in 1996.

The awards he received are too numerous to mention in one column. Suffice it to say, he was among the very best sports journalists I ever met, if not the very best. He covered The Masters, the Atlanta Braves, the Tennessee Volunteers and was so good at covering softball, he was elected to the ASA Sports Hall of Fame as well as many other halls. Buck Johnson knew more about sports than anybody I ever met, period. We could talk sports for hours and never get tired of it. My favorite times spent with him was in Knoxville covering Tennessee football when we would sit together and eat in the press box. Buck received a lifetime pass to Neyland Stadium after he retired and attended practically every home game. In fact the last time I was in Neyland for a game, Buck Johnson was there. He would always have someone drive him to the games but by halftime he was always ready to head home.

Buck always enjoyed being around people and that's why I believe he was so successful. One of his dearest friends was former radio guru the late Ernie Feagans who was also a dead ringer for Buck and vice-versa. When the two of them covered the Masters in Augusta, tournament officials were always getting them mixed up. On one occasion Buck pulled into Ernie's parking spot in the media lot, and the attendant called him Mr. Feagans. 

When I was asked to be on the board of the Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame, Buck was one of the very first people to greet me and welcome me aboard. He served with me for a few years before he decided to fully retire and I didn't see him much after that. I always wanted to take Buck to a Braves' game but that trek never was able to happen. That's something I truly regret to this day.

At the age of 94, Clay Mills " Buck " Johnson received his Heavenly reward. You talk about a life well-lived. He loved life and lived it to the fullest. Did I mention that Buck was a long-time Sunday School teacher and Methodist lay speaker? That's another part of his life that was oh so special. Goodbye, Buckaroo. I love you and will miss you greatly. By the way, tell Ernie Feagans I said hello. 

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Randy Smith can be reached at rsmithsports@epbfi.com


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