Former reporter killed in crash

lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 4, 2013 

Writer and former co-worker Billy Winn was saddened to hear about the death of Constance Johnson.

"It is not only a personal loss but a great loss to the profession of journalism," Winn said Sunday. "Connie was a great friend and colleague."

Johnson, a longtime Ledger-Enquirer city government reporter, died in an automobile crash July 28 in Columbus, Miss., where she had lived for about four months.

Johnson, 89, driving a Chevrolet Equinox, was struck head on by a Ford Bronco.

She was pronounced dead in the hospital at 7:04 p.m. by Lowndes County Coroner Greg Merchant.

Merchant said Sunday that the cause of death was blunt-force trauma.

Merchant said the intersection near Crawford, Miss., where the crash occurred is a particularly dangerous one. "There have been lots of accidents there," he said.

The crash, he said, happened around 4 p.m. that day.

Merchant said Johnson's air bag did work, but that Johnson was "fragile."

She was cremated on Tuesday.

"She was just out for a nice Sunday drive," said her nephew Sam Pilkinton III, who also lives in Columbus, Miss.

Pilkinton said his aunt had recently moved into a new house. She relocated to Columbus, Miss., from Darien, Ga., which is near St. Simons Island.

She shared her home with three cats.

"God makes givers and takers. She was a giver," Pilkinton said.

Johnson, who was born in Artesia, Miss., was a University of Mississippi graduate. She is survived by four nephews and one niece and numerous grand- and great-grand nieces and nephews. Also, by a sister-in-law, Helen House Pilkinton.

A niece, Hedi Konieczny of Daphne, Ala., said Johnson was the "touchstone" for her family, helping whenever she could. "We thought she would live forever," she said.

Johnson's husband, former Ledger editor Carlton Johnson, whom she married in 1954, died in 1977.

She covered city council for most of the more than 35 years she was with the newspaper.

Winn said Johnson addressed every story with the same sense of objectivity and

passion for her craft.

"She was one of the most professional journalists I have ever worked with," Winn said.

Jack Basset served eight years on the Columbus City Council. On Sunday, he recalled Johnson as an "exceptional person and journalist."

"She knew the answers to the questions before she asked them," Basset said. "Everybody thought of her as the last word in local political coverage. I had a lot of respect for her. When she called I was always sure to return the call and make sure she got my point of view."

Basset said that after Johnson retired they became close friends, sharing a love of sailing.

C.E. "Red" McDaniel was another city councilor covered by Johnson.

"She reported honestly," McDaniel said. "She showed no favorites. Covering the council was her No. 1 priority, and she was very conscientious about her work. She was always nice and very professional."

Former newspaper staff writer Harry Franklin spoke highly of his former co-worker.

"She was outstanding," Franklin said. "She was thorough. She was accurate. She knew city government inside and out. She was so hard-working and dedicated. I just thought the world of Connie."

A grand niece, Cauley von Hoffman of Washington, said Johnson loved her family and treated nephews and nieces and their children as though they were her own children.

"She would always come back home," she said. "She would do anything for us."

Johnson, von Hoffman said, was a "woman before her time," getting a private pilot's license at an early age and taking off on her own with a career. "She was an independent spirit."

She said that in retirement Johnson became a world traveler and that after retirement she continued to write stories for the newspaper.

"Her favorite was one she wrote about dolphins," von Hoffman said. "She was not a reporter anymore, but she was a news junkie. She could not get enough news."

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