Northwest Public Sector
Rebecca Johnson - Thunder Bay
Rebecca Johnson readily admits she’s a joiner.
If there’s an advisory board, a steering committee or a task force in need of a helping hand, it’s the humble and soft-spoken Thunder Bay native who steps forward.
This Public Sector Award winner is a behind-the-scenes organizer, an invisible hand that gets things done.
Johnson will tell you she’s 67 years old.
But she likes 50. Fifty’s a good number. Fifty signifies wisdom, maturity, experience, confidence, self-awareness and being comfortable in one’s skin.
“At 50, you know what’s important and what you still want to accomplish in life.”
Age certainly didn’t matter to Thunder Bay voters who have elected her to two terms on city council.
Getting old doesn’t bother her. There’s plenty to live for and so much more to learn. She has loads of energy and she feels great. Therefore, she’s 50.
For three decades, Johnson has been considered an outstanding community leader, mentor, ambassador and especially a role model for young women.
A Thunder Bay Chamber of Commerce president for 10 years and Lakehead Board of Education trustee for 12, her civic contributions include leadership positions on chambers of commerce, economic development, education, environmental, broadcasting, women’s institutes, fundraisers and quality of life initiatives.
Her easy-going rural-raised common sense approach, her honesty, humour and understated, but vocal, style of leadership has been a source of encouragement for thousands. Johnson is even an entrepreneur herself, running her own business, Rebecca Reports...for the Record, performing administrative duties for various organizations.
She has a trophy-case full of awards for community service. But she’s not in it for the self-gratification. It’s about personal growth and searching for ways to make Thunder Bay and Northern Ontario a better place to live.
Providing guidance to a young person and watching them take on new projects with confidence means more than any plaque.
Her nominators say what she promises, she delivers, whether the project is national in scope, political in nature, or even a favour to a colleague or friend.
There was a time when Johnson briefly pondered retirement, wondering if she was stretching herself too thin.
Then she pulled up stakes and moved to Penticton, B.C., but immediately went into business with her daughter operating a flower shop.
Even there she was a busy-body, joining business clubs, service groups and becoming president of the downtown association. She was even approached to run for city council.
“I found out who I was. I was a joiner. I will never not want to belong to 101 things.”
Johnson has faced her share of adversity and developed a strong work ethic.
Widowed early in life, she raised a family of three youngsters (Kristopher, Rachel and Lyle) while running a beef and swine farm in the Slate River Valley. It instilled a strong work ethic in her children.
But she made room for one more, welcoming an adopted son, Chuck, then a one-year-old with cerebral palsy.
With the support of her family, those challenges never prohibited her from pursuing her interests. “My family has always been there to give me the freedom to fly.”
Her grandchildren even have a window on her endeavors, accompanying Johnson in door-to-door campaigns, political events and media interviews.
One of her strongest beliefs is promoting the strength of women, a quality inspired by her maternal grandmother Mabel Bell, a life-long feminist back when they were called suffragettes.
“She probably saw me as someone who can make things happen. She challenged me to always do better.”
Johnson founded the Northern Ontario Women’s Leadership Forum, a one-time gathering that’s evolved into an annual event.
A passionate believer in the strength of women, she had a strong sense of commitment to provide a formal venue for women to network and find motivation for local business and community leaders-in-the-making.
She is also a board member of the Thunder Bay Business Women’s Network, Leadership Thunder Bay and PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise, Accelerator Program Advisory Board. Her work with the advisor has delivered support to more than 40 women in the North to launch or expand their business.