Clay Mills “Buck” Johnson, a beloved teacher and coach who later became an award-winning sports writer, died Saturday, June 27, 2020 at the age of 93. He was best known for his popular column “The Buck Stops Here’’ in The Chattanooga Times. Johnson graduated from Soddy-Daisy High School in 1944 was inducted into the inaugural Soddy-Daisy Hall of Fame in 2008. He served in the Navy during World War II where his buddies called him “Soddy.’’ Johnson received his B.S. from the University of Chattanooga and he attended graduate school at the University of Tennessee. After the war, Johnson taught for 30 years in the Hamilton County Schools. During a 30-year coaching career, he won 12 Coach-of-the-Year awards in baseball, football and girls’ basketball. He also served as principal at Falling Water Elementary School and was the first principal at Allen Elementary School. For 43 years, Johnson worked at The Chattanooga Times, some as a part-timer while he was still teaching. After retiring from teaching in 1979, he served as sports editor for 17 years at The Times. He retired from The Times in 1996. Johnson won numerous awards and honors for his writing. Many of his columns received special citations, and he was twice chosen as the National Amateur Athletic Union Media Man of the Year. One honor was first place in the newspaper columns category at the annual dinner of the Golf Writers Association. He received a national award for a series in The Times on pollution specific to the Chattanooga area. Johnson covered the University of Tennessee football, the Atlanta Braves, 15 Master’s Golf Tournaments, and was voted National Softball Writer of the Year five times. He was a lifetime member of the Golf Writers of America and the National Baseball Writers Association, and served on the Heisman Trophy voting panel for 10 years and on the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame voting panel since 1990. He received a lifetime pass from the Baseball Writers Association to attend any baseball stadium in North America, and the University of Tennessee awarded him a framed Tennessee jersey and a lifetime pass for the UT press box. It is said that he was “a keen analyst of the technical side of sports, who won a legion of followers by mixing his insider’s knowledge with an appreciation for the human interest elements of a story. He reflected his community spirit by frequently using his space in the newspaper to promote worthwhile causes in the Chattanooga area.” He was chosen as a member of the Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame, the Soddy Daisy Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and the Amateur Softball Association’s National Hall of Honor. He served on the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and the Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame and was on the first Recreation Committee for the city of Soddy Daisy. Buck was one of the people working behind the scenes to have softball included as an Olympic sport. When the International Olympic Committee voted to include women’s softball in 1991, he was asked to serve as the chief press officer for the International Softball Federation, attending to media relations worldwide. He held that position for the Atlanta and Sydney games, and assisted with those duties for the Athens games. He served on the IOC committee that formulates the international softball rules. He also took part in the World Softball Congress in the U.S. and Seoul, South Korea. He also represented the organization at the Canada Cup. Buck wrote for many other publications, including The Olympic magazine, the ISF Magazine, and the Sporting News. He also co-wrote a book about the history of Olympic softball. Buck was an avid golfer and enjoyed playing with his friends on courses in Tennessee and Florida. He also had the opportunity to play the Old Course at St. Andrews’s in Scotland.
Johnson was a devout member of Soddy Methodist Church, where he served as a Sunday School teacher for 55 years, church historian and a licensed lay speaker. He was honored with a tribute in the Tennessee Legislature by his good friend, Rep. Arnold Stulce. It said in part, “Buck Johnson exemplifies the spirit and dedication that is characteristic of a true Tennessean.” Johnson met and watched the greatest athletes as well as the leaders of the world. His true love was his hometown of Soddy-Daisy. He once said, “I love Soddy-Daisy, period! It has been a pleasure for me to boast about our town everywhere I have visited around the world.’’
Buck was a devoted husband to Jean, his wife of 67 years, Along with Jean, he is survived by his daughter, Cindy Cunnyngham; granddaughter, Jessica (Matt) Lyon, several nieces and nephews; a host of friends in the U.S. and Wales.
Due to the pandemic, visitation will not be held. There will be a private family service. A public memorial service will be held at a later date.
Condolences and memories can be shared at www.williamsonandsons.com.
Arrangements are by Williamson and Sons Funeral Home, 8852 Dayton Pike, Soddy-Daisy, TN 37379.
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