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Family legacy: Woman follows in father's footsteps as mayor

Judy Jordan Johnson, Lawrenceville Mayor

Judy Jordan Johnson, Lawrenceville Mayor

LAWRENCEVILLE — After her mother’s death, with her brother and sister busy, Judy Jordan Johnson felt a responsibility to help her dad knock on doors as he ran for mayor of Lawrenceville.

“I despised it and said I would never do that again,” Johnson said with a laugh.

Decades later, the hometown girl changed her mind, and now she’s poised to follow in her father’s footsteps as mayor of Gwinnett’s county seat.

“It seemed different then, when I went with my dad,” Rhodes Jordan, who won eight terms as mayor, Johnson said. After being convinced to sit on the City Council, Johnson had a change of heart. “Every once in a while, it’s good for someone to open their door,” she laughed. “It was an enjoyable experience.”

Just like her old man, Johnson hasn’t been successful in every race. Two years ago, she lost the mayor’s seat by two dozen votes, but she persevered and tried again.

“There were causes for the city that I wanted to help come to fruition,” Johnson said. “He was the people’s mayor, and that’s what I always wanted to be.”

While her father was known for his memory and ability to tell the history of the city, Johnson is more analytical — more left-brained — like the math teacher she was for 30 years.

But the two shared a faith in God and a servant’s heart.

“We’re both very public-servant minded,” Johnson said, adding that when she retired from her job at Central Gwinnett High School, she volunteered every day of the week. “That was important to me to give back to the community, and it was important to him to give back.”

With her swearing-in ceremony approaching, Johnson has been reflecting on her father’s words of wisdom.

“You can always agree to disagree, and sometimes that’s what you have to do. ...

“To always be accountable to people and have an open door. ...

“Don’t judge quickly. ... In any situation, there are two sides and both sides need to be heard.”

While she remembers the late-night phone calls her father would receive as mayor, her stronger memories are of the times when he served as justice of the peace, performing weddings at their Culver Street home.

“My mom would bake a cake, and I played the organ,” she said.

While Johnson has been nostalgic in her reflections on her father, she knows the city today is much different than the last term her father served more than two decades ago.

“I want to see Lawrenceville become the county seat that it needs to be,” she said. “I want Lawrenceville to be the buzz word when people say, ‘Where do we go tonight?’”

Johnson wants businesses to prosper and neighborhoods to stay strong, despite the economy that has many struggling. And she believes low taxes and a stability in government services are the keys to helping that along.

At the same time, she wants to find ways to bring good out of a predicament, such as hanging art produced by students at the local schools in the windows of empty storefronts.

“I hope in my tenure as mayor that if there is a negative aspect in a business or neighborhood or situation that I can turn it into a positive,” she said. “I know there are going to be challenges, but I also see great opportunities.”

The soon-to-be-mayor can’t help but wonder what her father would say if he were here to watch her be sworn in as mayor.

“When I was running for office previously, I knew my dad would be proud of me whether I won or lost,” she said. But at Sunday’s ceremony, she believes, “I think he would have a lot of pride that his daughter is following in his footsteps.”