A 2 and 1/2 hour funeral service for legendary broadcast journalist Bruce Johnson was filled with praise for what he did on-camera during his decades covering the news in D.C., along with praise for what he did off-camera as a friend, colleague, and father.
And there was lots and lots of laughter, too.
Eulogies were given by a long list of former co-workers of Johnson’s, who spent more than 30 years at WUSA 9. Politicos and friends also got a chance to speak, but it was his family who got lots of laughs too.
“If you haven’t guessed, being one of Bruce Johnson’s children was a blessing and quite exhausting,” said his oldest daughter, Kurshanna Johnson Dean. “Every conversation turned into a press conference and God forbid if you gave the wrong answer or one that led to more questions. Whoo.”
“I’ll always miss going to Wizards games with him and someone would ask, ‘Hey aren’t you Jim Vance?’ said Johnson’s son, Brandon. “I’d always interject, ‘No, he’s the other one.'”
The funeral service was held at a packed St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in the Cardozo neighborhood.
“I can’t help but if Bruce were here he’d say this is a pretty good gathering for this sized market,” noted Channel 9 anchor Lesli Foster. “He led with heart and with love but he also sometimes led with the four words no one wanted to hear: with all due respect.”
“As our GM and president Richard Dyer would say, ‘when Bruce said ‘with all due respect’ you knew some disrespect, lovingly, was coming your way,'” said Foster. “His generosity knew no bounds. If Bruce loved you, he had your front, side, and your back.”
There was also lots of reminiscing by Johnson’s former colleague at WUSA, Gordon Peterson, who referred to himself as the straight man for Johnson and the late Glen Brenner.
“This is hard for me,” admitted Peterson, who tallied 46 years of friendship with Johnson. “Bruce Johnson was one of the best, if not the best urban reporter in this country. I’ve been saying that for years. Bruce loved the streets and he loved the people in the streets.
“Bruce ended every conversation we had by telling me he loved me,” said Peterson. “I love you back old friend.”
The funeral mass was led by Father John Mudd, a longtime priest in the diocese of Washington who also counted Johnson as a friend. Even he got some jokes in, too.
“His family tells me he would always sign letters and notes either ‘No.1 dad,’ ‘your hero,’ or ‘the man,'” said Mudd, who then paused for laughter, before teasing, “You say he was humble?” That got even more laughs.
But behind all the laughter and jokes was the recognition of the impact Johnson had in the TV news business, and on the city he loved.
“He understood his duty as a leader to pay it forward,” said Mudd. “And he realized he was a vessel with a higher message. He considered the people of Washington, D.C, and Cincinnati before that, to be his people.”
Johnson died of a heart attack on April 3 at the age of 71.