“That man was my hero,” daughter of former Muscogee County Sheriff Ralph Johnson says

Sheriff: Former Sheriff Johnson had a way of "seeing the diamonds in the rough", preparing people, giving them opportunities to grow and succeed.

Former Muscogee County Sheriff Ralph B. Johnson died early Saturday morning of cancer. Johnson served the department for 26 years, including nine as sheriff. Current Sheriff Donna Tompkins reflected Monday morning on Johnson's legacy.
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Former Muscogee County Sheriff Ralph B. Johnson died early Saturday morning of cancer. Johnson served the department for 26 years, including nine as sheriff. Current Sheriff Donna Tompkins reflected Monday morning on Johnson's legacy.

Former Muscogee County Sheriff Ralph B. Johnson, who served the department for 26 years including nine as sheriff, died early Saturday of cancer in Hohenwald, Tenn., the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office said. He was 61.

Donna Tompkins, the sheriff since taking office in January 2017, posted her former boss’ death on the city’s website after receiving a text message from his family. She recalled how Johnson focused on education for his staff and recognized the need to serve in the community.

“Ralph was a mentor and I think he did a lot to bring education to the sheriff’s office,” she said. “He highly valued it and I caught on that vision myself. A lot of people did and it helped to prepare us to take the lead.”

Funeral arrangements are not yet available. Tompkins said the sheriff’s office will support the family if a memorial service is requested in Columbus.

“We will certainly give them all the honor a former sheriff deserves,” she said.

Cassady Johnson Einglett, his daughter, said he spent the last year of his life growing vegetables in peace and quiet on a beautiful piece of property. “That man was my hero,” she said. “He held our family together under tremendous difficulties when my mom got sick and my brother and I both messed up. He waited for us to get right. He taught us and educated us. He was a mentor. He was the best person and he was stronger than anybody I know.”

He also was a good father and grandfather. “At the end of the day, he was a great man,” she said. “He did amazing things for that town.”

Emily Johnson, 62, said her husband was her caretaker for more than 23 years. She uses a wheelchair and can’t walk. He also took care of his mother after she retired and mother-in-law.

“I almost died,” she said. “The man is a saint in my eyes. I couldn’t have made it without him.”

After he was stricken with cancer, Emily said she took care of him. “He was a phenomenal person,” she said.

Before he died, he had multiple surgeries, radiation and plenty of pain. “When he died, he had fractures in every bone in his body,” she said. “I know he is not hurting and suffering any more.”

For Tompkins, Johnson was instrumental in helping to shape her career.

“I think Ralph was very good at seeing the diamonds in the rough, preparing people and giving them opportunities,” she said. “He gave me opportunities to work in the community and be involved in things.”

Born in 1956 in Columbus, Johnson was a graduate of Columbus High School. He attend Columbus College where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice. In 1998, he earned a master’s in public administration from Columbus State University.

He was a graduate of the FBI National Academy and the Georgia Chiefs of Police Command College. He was appointed as sheriff in 1999 and won a special election in November 1999 to fill the unexpired term of Sheriff Gene Hodge. He was re-elected sheriff of Muscogee County in 2000 and in 2004.

One of the most tragic moments in his second term was on Dec. 10, 2003, when the Metro Narcotics Task Force and the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Office stopped a GMC Yukon on Interstate 185. Authorities believed the SUV contained armed men from Miami. Deputy David Glisson shot and killed Kenneth Walker, a 39-year-old husband and father of a then-3-year-old girl. No drugs or weapons were found in the vehicle.

In 2008, Johnson was running on his experience in the position he had held for nine years and his education in law enforcement. The death of Walker and Johnson’s action after the shooting surfaced during the campaign.

Riding a wave of minority support for Barack Obama for president, voters in large numbers upset Johnson as an Independent and elected Democrat John Darr, a sergeant to succeed his former boss.

Tompkins became the first woman in Muscogee County to lead the department when she defeated Darr, who filed a lawsuit against the city over claims his budget wasn’t adequate.

Tompkins said Johnson supported a partnership and being involved in the community.

“I learned that from him,” she said. “Every chance we get to do that, I wish we had more staff so we could do more.”

When Donna Tompkins won a gender discrimination lawsuit against then-Muscogee County Sheriff John Darr in 2013, she had no idea that she would one day sit in his seat.