James Shelley Johnson was born into this world on November 7, 1941 to parents, Lina Pearl Barnes and Kermit Johnson. In search of a better life and more opportunity, James’ mother relocated him and his siblings from Clio, AL to Cincinnati, OH. He was eight years old when they moved. It wasn’t long after the move that James began to call the West End neighborhood of Cincinnati home. Whether it was Liberty and John Streets, the Laurel Holmes or the Lincoln Court projects, James knew the West End community as well as its people, inside - out. As a student, he attended Bloom Middle School before later graduating from Taft High School in 1961.
Affectionately, James was known to many as either J.J. or Deacon Jay. Those who knew James were well aware of his love of sports. Just the mention of a basketball game would send him into a frenzy describing not only the game in mention, but many more classic games from the 80’s. Eventually, most sports conversations with James would always make its way back around to when he coached recreation basketball. James took great pride in his ability to demonstrate and share what he knew with others. Later in life, after his basketball playing and coaching days were done, James very much enjoyed staying active. He would often walk in his neighborhood, play racquetball, as well as ride a stationary bike in order to stay fit.
James Johnson was, without a doubt, an anchor within his Church community. In 1975, James joined Greater Fellowship Baptist Church. Under Pastor H. M. Smith, James dedicated his life to Christ. He later was a member of the Usher Board before eventually being set aside to become a Deacon. As a Deacon, James served faithfully for over three decades. Whenever the Church doors were open, you could count on seeing Deacon Jay…whether it be Sunday School, Morning Worship, 2nd Watch Services, Annual Days, Bible Study, funerals, etc. Additionally, James was a dedicated Sunday School teacher and also taught Bible Study when necessary. James not only gave his time to the Church, but he also contributed to the Church financially. Prior to becoming ill, James had volunteered to become the Sunday School Superintendent. In over 40 years of membership at Greater Fellowship, James had either chaired or co-chaired countless programs while also serving on many committees. Simply stated, it was very unusual for there to be a service at Greater Fellowship Baptist Church without seeing Deacon Jay.
James was a true character. He was always full of life and willing to have a good laugh. His jokes were always sharp and on point. The same can also be said about his suit collection. Deacon Jay was known for wearing purple, green, cream, blue and even peach colored suits to Church. He liked to be clean on Sundays. He also loved to eat. Whatever he couldn’t eat, he would wrap up in a Kroger bag and take home. One of his favorite meals was a Frisch’s Big Boy Platter. He was known for eating, but never for cooking. The latter also would become a running joke between James and everyone he knew.
James Shelley Johnson exhaled his final breath on August 30, 2020. It was at that point he departed from this world to meet his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His work here was done and his pain on this earth has ended. Nevertheless, his passing leaves a void in the hearts of those who knew and loved him that words can’t express.
He was preceded in death by his father (Kermit) and sister (Sheila). He leaves behind his mother (Lina); four brothers (Floyd, Frank, Richard and Johnny); one sister (Patricia) and three sons (Darrell, Cedric and Anthony).
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