Big Sky Roundup
Charles ‘Chuck’ Johnson, tower of Montana journalism, dies
A chrome lithograph of the Montana Capitol in Helena (Library of Congress, Public Domain).
Charles S. Johnson, retired Montana reporter, Capitol bureau chief, and longtime mentor to journalists, has died, the Helena Independent Record reported Monday.
“Johnson’s wife, Pat, told friends he was supposed to have dinner over the weekend with his relatives and, when he did not show, ‘they did a welfare check and found him gone,’ friends said,” according to the Independent Record. He was 74.
Tributes poured across Twitter on Monday from journalists and those who had worked with Johnson. He covered state politics as far back as the 1972 Constitutional Convention.
The University of Montana School of Journalism described Johnson, who studied journalism and history at UM, as “Montana’s finest journalist.”
“The example he set as a journalist, editor, mentor, friend and overall, as a human, is unmatched,” said the School of Journalism on Twitter. “The hole he leaves in journalism and in our state is gaping.”
We are heartbroken over the loss of Montana's finest journalist, Chuck Johnson. The example he set as a journalist, editor, mentor, friend and overall, as a human, is unmatched. The hole he leaves in journalism and in our state is gaping. https://t.co/qMLUAVU123 pic.twitter.com/bQiD7okfmD
— School of Journalism (@UMJSchool) March 6, 2023
In 2022, Montana State University announced it would confer on Johnson an honorary doctorate in humane letters. The announcement noted Johnson spent September 1978 through June 1979 studying politics and economics at Oxford University in England on a Rotary Foundation fellowship for journalists.
On Twitter, retired editor and publisher Jim Strauss said Johnson’s passing was a “huge loss for Montana.”
“If heaven has a legislature, Chuck already is walking its halls,” Strauss said.
If heaven has a legislature, Chuck already is walking its halls. Huge loss for Montana. RIP, my friend. https://t.co/YBjCM473wp
— jimstrauss (@straussjamesv) March 6, 2023
Phil Drake, who wrote the IR story about Johnson’s death, said having breakfast with him was like “dining with a reluctant prince.”
“People would always stop by the table and say hi,” Drake wrote on Twitter. “I think he was embarrassed by the attention but always gracious and kind. #30.”
Eating breakfast with Chuck was like dining with a reluctant prince. People would always stop by the table and say hi. I think he was embarrassed by the attention but always gracious and kind. #30
— Phil Drake (@IR_PhilDrake) March 6, 2023
Sally Mauk, of Montana Public Radio, said she was heartbroken to learn of his passing: “He was a mentor, colleague and treasured friend. Huge loss for those who knew him and for the state he loved and served so well.”
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said the following in a statement:
“Chuck Johnson was a reporter’s reporter – always prepared, and always speaking truth to power. As a journalist, his integrity, commitment to truth, and willingness to hold people accountable earned him the respect of readers and elected officials alike, from both sides of the aisle. Chuck was a great reporter and even better man – and after keeping Montanans informed for decades, he will be sorely missed by family, friends, and countless others in the Treasure State. Sharla and my thoughts are with his family.”
Gov. Greg Gianforte said he and his wife, Susan Gianforte, were mourning his loss and praying for his family.
“Susan and I are deeply saddened with the passing of Chuck Johnson, our friend and a giant in political journalism. From the countless reporters whom he mentored generously to the state he loved so dearly, Montana has lost a legend. For over four decades, Chuck served the people of Montana as a fair, honest, affable, tenacious journalist with a deep passion for his craft. Susan and I mourn the loss of Chuck and pray for Pat and their loved ones.”
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