Larry didn’t want an obituary in the paper, so this is his story on the web 😉
Laurence (AKA Larry) Johnson was born in Boston, Massachusetts on April 26, 1933, one of three children born to Eben and Audria (AKA Audra) Johnson. His love of learning, his gift for engineering and building, as well as his love of aviation, was evident early in his life in his perchance to design model planes, and, later, he even took a clandestine ‘joyride’ in a private plane with friends that ended without damage, beyond crops, in a farmer’s field.
He was raised in the Episcopal church and even sang as a member, and sometimes soloist, of the boys’ choir, a position which once afforded him the serendipitous opportunity to sing The Lord’s Prayer in duet with Nelson Eddy.
At the age of 20 he enlisted in the Air Force where he served as a pilot, navigator, and instructor actively participating in the tail end of the Berlin Airlift, combat missions in Viet Nam and as an instructor teaching young pilots how to fly the T-38 Talon as well as use equipment on other planes for mission-critical tasks. He also served as a navigator on the C-123 Globemaster flying frequent NATO missions during the cold war and it was both his ingenuity and ‘out of the box’ thinking on these and other missions that recommended him to a Top Secret think tank that he served in for many years after his military retirement.
While many would be content to build a career in the military, Larry initially sought to pursue concurrent dreams by also making a name for himself as a skilled and ingenuitive stock car driver in the Sports Car Club of America. While he owned several sporty cars, including one of the first Corvettes, when it came to racing his passion was a stock Austin Healy known on the track as the Rusty Red Devil, and he made a practice of studying the rules each year to see what modifications were disallowed so he could tweak the ones that weren’t. This let him adjust his engine to peak, allowable, performance, and when coupled with his keen, strategic mind, he was often able to beat cars in his division considered faster. He raced for several years until he decided racing was not an appropriate hobby for a family man and the Air Force expressed its disapproval resulting in the retirement of the Rusty Red Devil and the sale of his other cars.
So while his career as a race car driver was cut short, his military career continued. Throughout his military career, he earned several medals and awards. Among those he displayed were his consecutive Air Medals (one with first and second oak leaf clusters) for Meritorious Achievement While Participating in Aerial Flight from August 30 1969 through March 20, 1970, an Outstanding Instructor Award from James Connally AFB Waco TX, and his Distinguished Flying Cross, awarded for performing his job with exemplary knowledge and outstanding airmanship under extremely hazardous conditions as a navigator on a C-130 performing a night flair/forward air controller mission in an area of intense antiaircraft artillery on January 13, 1970.
This particular mission gave him the opportunity to join another exclusive military order – The Order of the Jolly Green Giant - when unexpected circumstances resulted in an unplanned deployment of his parachute, and he was pulled from the plane and into the night. The improperly deployed chute failed to open, and Larry assumed he was going to die until God gave him an image of his first wife and young daughter and reminded him he had something to live for. Enabled by a sudden surge of energy, he tried three times to climb a chute rated ‘unclimbable’ before he hit the trees. He was estimated to have hit the jungle floor at 55 miles an hour and suffered injuries that would prove to have life-long consequences, but he was alive. Employing skills taught in the military, he survived the night, with the enemy actively searching for him, until dawn's early light brought a two-rotor Jolly Green Giant helicopter and crew to lift him from the jungle with a sling. Miraculously, he walked out of the hospital the next day, but doctors warned his injuries would become debilitating and leave him in a wheelchair as he grew older. In typical Larry fashion, however, he would prove them wrong.
All told, his military career would not only encompass aviation but missiles and he would serve in Texas, Delaware, Louisiana, California, Iceland, Alaska, and Okinawa before finally ending his military career at F. E. Warren Air Force Base retiring with the rank of Major.
After retiring, he sought to fulfil the dreams of his first wife, Ginna, who he had met while stationed in Waco, Texas. They had one daughter, Cristina, born on FE Warren, and adopted a son, Kevin. Ginna enjoyed horses and square dancing so they purchased property west of town and built a custom house with a living room big enough for two full squares. Along with horses came a small herd of cattle, started with bottle babies bought at auction, and the kids grew up involved in 4-H. He also helped a friend try his hand at opening a tire retread plant. The product was good, but health issues from the fall were beginning to take a physical toll, and the plant eventually failed as did his marriage leaving him in the position of a single father. That is when he decided it was time to take up an old mantle.
Larry went back to school to update his transcript and received his teaching certification through the University of Wyoming. He hired on with Laramie County School District Number One, starting as an agriculture teacher at East High School where he devised numerous student projects designed to incorporate multiple academic skills. His skills, however, weren’t just needed there. From agriculture, he moved to East High’s industrial arts where his projects continued to challenge students to think ‘outside the box’ and use all their skills. One project, in particular, was an ambitious student-designed, self-propelled, trailer-mounted generator and workstation complete with radio and tape player that earned the grand champion ribbon for mechanics projects at the 1988 Wyoming State Fair. After working at East High School, he briefly retired from teaching but was asked to come back as a science teacher at McCormick Junior High School. Eventually, he was transferred to Carey Junior High School where he worked with a science team of two other teachers specializing in life science. Larry was known for perfecting the dissection lesson of an actual frog which he centered around the important job skill of following instructions exactly and taught that lesson to not only students, but their parents who he pulled in to assist with the dissections. Larry’s outgoing personality, unconventional approach, and meticulous teaching style nurtured many young students and inspired more than one to delve into science-based careers. In addition, recognizing the value of hands-on learning, Larry was the advisor for the after-school model-building club. In fact, at the time he retired for the final time, he was advocating for a program where students would learn to build, and then fly, an actual plane.
Through these many years of teaching, Larry’s children grew up and moved on to lives of their own. He married his second wife, Carolyn, and as his first wife supported his love of racing, his second wife recognized his desire to fly. Larry was an active member of the Experimental Aircraft Association and he spent many hours working on his own plane, chosen carefully for its capability to perform acrobatic maneuvers in Wyoming’s high altitudes. In addition, he was a member pilot of the Young Eagles, a program in which pilots sought to foster a love of flying in young people by taking them for actual flights in their private planes. After retiring from teaching, he continued working on his prized Cessna aircraft and started working on an experimental aircraft that was powered by a Corvair engine. Sadly, he was unable to finish this project because of worsening health issues.
Not wanting to become ‘lazy’ in his retirement, however, Larry involved himself in the automotive world again, albeit at a more reasonable pace. He went to work for the local NAPA auto parts store delivering parts to various auto businesses in town, making friends with a good many mechanics.
Larry finally lost his life to pancreatic cancer, and nothing short of that could have taken him down. At McCormick, he was still spry enough to engage his science class in a foot race and beat a good portion of the class and at the age of 70 he was doing aerobics. He kept astounding the doctors with his persistent and stubborn ability to keep moving, and while those who knew him knew the growing pain he dealt with on a daily basis as a result of his fall into the blackness, he was never once relegated to the predicted wheelchair.
Among the many people who will miss Larry are is his wife Carolyn, his son Kevin, his daughter Cristina and her husband Russell, and their children, Larry’s precious grandchildren, Alyssa, Rebecca, and Joshua.
Larry also leaves behind his first wife, Sarah.
Instead of flowers, Larry would appreciate donations to one of the following organizations,
Cheyenne Young Eagles – (information to be added soon)
Cheyenne Animal Shelter - Donate in person or online. Please designate ‘In memory of Larry Johnson’ in the memo/comments. (https://www.cheyenneanimalshelter.org/donate)
There will be no funeral services or reception at this time at Larry’s request, but the family will be planning a celebration of life to be held at Saint Christopher’s Episcopal Church in the future. Watch the local paper for the invitation and be prepared to come with pictures and stories.