Samuel Norman Johnson, III, affectionately known to many as Laredo’s “Mr. Theatre”, passed away Friday, February 28, 2014 at his home in Laredo, Texas.
A longtime business leader and philanthropist of the arts, “Sammy” helped nurture Laredo’s amateur and professional thespians through his tireless participation in, support of and zeal or the performing arts.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Samuel N. Johnson, Jr., and Elizabeth Korbly Johnson and brother Charles Korbly Johnson.
He is survived by his sister, Elizabeth J. Gill; nephew David Payne, great niece Joanna Payne Perkins; great nephew, Andrew L. Payne; niece Janet M. Payne.
The Johnson family was steeped in border business and traditions. His grandfather, Silas N. Johnson, moved to Laredo from New York in the 1880’s. He went on to found S.N. Johnson Bottling Works, bottlers and distributors of Budweiser and Coca-Cola here for over 82 years.
Born at Laredo’s Mercy Hospital, he graduated from Austin’s St. Edward’s High School and St. Edward’s University. After serving in the Army Air Force, he returned to Laredo to join the family’s businesses.
Upon the death of his father, he directed the growth of the Budweiser Distributorship and, with the assistance of his sister, Elizabeth Johnson Gill, expanded the Laredo Coca- Cola company’s business portfolio. Both remained active in the company until its sale in 1992.
While the family’s tradition was business, it was much involved in the community service and the championing of historical preservation, roles that Sammy particularity relished.
He dedicated service to local theatre saw the Laredo Little Theatre (LLT) name its annual performers awards the “Sammy’s.” His love of the local history often saw him shepherd downtown trolley or walking tours for the Webb County Heritage Foundation (WCHF). He never tired of the occasional cameo in productions and was routinely a driving force behind the scenes as well.
Active in the Washington’s Birthday Celebration Association, he portrayed George Washington in the 1979 pageant. His appointment and awards, memberships and civic involvements were numerous.
The Laredo Chamber of Commerce provided him at Lifetime Achievement Award, while the Kiwanis named him recipient of the Kiwanis Humanitarian Award. The LLT gave its Lifetime Achievement Award to him, while the WCHF designated him recipient of its Meritorious Service and Lifetime Achievement Awards.
In 1999 he was inducted as a laureate in the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame. In 2009, alongside Joe Arciniega and Hortense Offerle, he announced the formation of the Laredo Theater Guild International, collaboration with Texas A&M International University (TAMIU). In 2010 he served as honorary President of the Republic of the Rio Grande for the WCHF.
A frequent performer in the Laredo Little Theatre, the Laredo Philharmonic Chorale and Laredo Philharmonic Orchestra, the self- admitted “ham” was equally adept at stage construction, last-minute costume repairs and one-main promotional efforts. Most important, he thought, was the need to encourage participation in and support for Laredo’s performing arts. He was convinced that Laredo’s pool of talent was immense and boundless.
Many thought he embodied the spirit of volunteerism and was essentially a private sector public servant. He considered the designation of the Samuel N. Johnson Experimental Theatre at TAMIU among his life’s top honors.
Those wishing to honor his memory are encourage to support the Johnson Experimental Theatre at TAMIU, 5201 University Boulevard, Laredo, Texas, 78041 or Webb County Heritage Foundation, P.O. Box 446, Laredo, Texas or Laredo Little Theatre, 4802 Thomas Avenue, Laredo, Texas 78041.
A memorial service will be held at 3:30 pm on Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at Fred Dickey Funeral Chapel. Light refreshments and coffee will be provided after the service. Funeral arrangements are under the care of Fred Dickey Funeral & Cremation Services, 1320 Trey Dr., Laredo, TX 78041. (956)723-3611. You may sign the register book or place your condolences to the family online at www.freddickey.com.