To say that attending a person’s memorial service is rewarding may be atypical, but in the case of Ila Johnston, who passed away last month at the age of 103, it was an edifying experience. But then that wouldn’t come as any surprise to those who knew her, for her life was just that, an edifying experience. As a teacher at Spur ISD she touched the lives of many, teaching generations of students, including my mom, dad, and sister. Unfortunately for me, I missed having her as a teacher, since she retired before I got into Spur Junior High.
I got to know Ila when I moved back to Spur in 1996 while she was working on the restoration of the Palace Theater. This spry, energetic 90-year-old woman was at the Palace most every day and would drop in to say hi at the newspaper office located right next door. One day she arrived with a gift for me–a coffee mug with the inscription “In the cookies of life, friends are the chocolate chips.” I cherished that mug which lived on my desk filled to the brim with coffee every day.
When freelance photographer Michael O’Brien contacted me in late 1998 about nominating a “small-town character” from Spur for his feature “Townsfolk” in Texas Monthly magazine I consulted a couple of friends, and we were decidedly for nominating Ila. When O’Brien arrived to take photos of Ila, by then age 93, I wondered what I had gotten her into, asI helped her over a weedy bar ditch into a field to be photographed. O’Brien spent part of a day and the better part of the next day hauling her around to different locations to take photos of her. Still, she bought me that mug anyway.
Every time I went to visit her, as I would be leaving she would tell me, “You behave.” I always assured her I would not, and she would laugh and said she wouldn’t either. So I gave her a shirt as a parting gift when she moved away from the nursing home in Spur to Crosbyton. It was inscribed: “Well behaved women seldom make history.” That would be the last time I saw her. Here’s to making history, Ila.