Rev. Walter E. Johnson, M. Div.
For more than three decades, Rev. Walter E. Johnson, M. Div. and his wife Esther have supported Mission Hospice just about every way possible. They have been Leadership Circle donors for many years. Esther, a Mission Hospice Auxiliary volunteer since 2000, is now a sustaining member. And Walt has ministered to many, many patients and families, including conducting burials at sea. A private pilot, he has performed nearly 1,000 such ceremonies.
In honor of his lifetime commitment, Walt received the Mission Hospice Lotus Award at our 36th anniversary celebration in January. The award was created in 2005 to recognize individuals who have shown outstanding support of Mission Hospice. Kate Breaux, Lotus Award committee chair, said that the committee is grateful for Walt’s many contributions to Mission Hospice. “Walt’s positive nature, calming presence, and supportive thoughts have been a gift to so many patients – as well as staff.”
As chaplain at Peninsula Hospital for 30 years (and at Sequoia Hospital before that), Walt was an early supporter of the hospice movement. “I’ve had a growing commitment to helping people die well,” he said, “and to die with a sense of personal dignity and connection to their families.”
When he retired from the hospital in 1995, it seemed natural that he would become a chaplain for Mission Hospice, where he served for 12 years. And he’s not done yet. “I’m addicted to ministry,” he says, laughing. “I feel so fortunate to be a minister because I can continue practicing even though I’m not formally hired somewhere.”
Witty and warm, Walt is a good listener, and loves to tell a story – especially one with a laugh. “Many people assume that dying is dark and dreary,” he says, “but there’s an amazing number of times when there is laughter and light. Two things indicate that a person is dying well – one, that they can laugh, not take themselves so seriously, and two, that they have a sense of gratitude.”
And he feels thankful for his life’s work. “I have profound appreciation of the patients and the families who allow us to be with them at such a personal and meaningful time in their lives,” he said. “To me, it is an honor to be in people’s homes at these poignant moments.”
The many of us in the Mission Hospice family who have been touched by Walt’s warmth and ministry feel that gratitude as well, and congratulate Walt on his well-earned honor.