To her friends in the Nechako Rotary Club, Andrea Johnson was Andrea Everything.
She could never say no and was always willing to contribute to whatever cause the local service club was taking on. In her work over the past six years as a communications officer at UNBC, her 15 years writing for newspapers, or her volunteer work with the Rotary clubs in Prince George and Quesnel, Johnson went beyond the call of duty to latch on to virtually any project she thought would improve the lives of the people around her.
“Andrea was one of our professional volunteers, she volunteered for everything to do with Rotary, she had a big heart and it was all about providing opportunity and service to people within our community,” said Nechako Rotary executive member Ken Pendergast, who was shocked to learn that Johnson had died at age 50 last week in her Prince George home. “She’s been a true-blue Rotarian ever since I met her.”
Rotary’s Operation Red Nose Prince George was near and dear to Johnson’s heart and every year her friends knew better than to invite her to any social function that happened on weekend evenings in the month of December. She managed media relations for the program, trained volunteers and organized the service to provide free rides to impaired drivers. On nights when it was busy during Christmas party season, Johnson joined the road crews and would be there to take over the keys and drive people home.
For nearly 13 years, Johnson was part of the Nechako Rotary family. She served on the executive as media/public relations liaison, was president of the club from 2012-13 and was in her second year of producing the 5040 district’s president-elect training seminars. She was also part of the team that organized the Prince George Relay For Life cancer research fundraiser.
Johnson was interested in Rotary’s worldwide peace initiatives and helped promote First Nations truth and reconciliation, racial diversity and inclusion and anti-hate movements. As a peace facilitator, she represented the Nechako club at world conferences in Brazil, Atlanta and Toronto. She was among a group of 30 Rotarians in the district who joined the Media Beyond Borders program and was working for her accreditation to attend programs in Rotary’s six peace universities around the world.
She utilized her technical skills to set up virtual Zoom meetings that connected club members caught in pandemic isolation over the past two years and was on the planning committee for the 2022 Rotary 5040 district conference coming up in May.
In December, Johnson was part of the club’s Warm Up Downtown project at the Fire Pit Drop-in Cultural Centre to provide a hot meal for 100 people. Teens also benefited from Johnson’s influence through her involvement in Roteract and Interact and she helped facilitate the youth leadership awards program which brings young members annually to Camp Friendship at Lakelse Lake, south of Terrace.
“She was really a shining light for our club,” said Nechako Rotary president Kathy Carlson. “She was a really strong advocate for Rotary. She wore so many hats.”
Johnson loved the outdoors and lived for sports as an avid runner, hiker, kayaker and cross-country skier and especially enjoyed watching curling, rodeo, CFL football, hockey and tennis, as a Roger Federer fan. She was glued to her TV set whenever the Olympics were on and was already signed up as a volunteer for the Women’s World Curling Championship at CN Centre next month, her second go-round in an event cancelled at the last minute two years ago when the pandemic first broke out.
Sports were her passion and she combined that love with her career path as a newspaper sports reporter. I got to know Andrea in January 2014 when the Prince George Citizen hired her to join our sports department and despite her love for the Edmonton Oilers and mine for the Calgary Flames, we immediately shared a bond, maybe because we were both transplanted Albertans. It was impossible not to like her. She brought to our newsroom energy, enthusiasm and an ever-positive outlook on life that reflected her kind and friendly personality.
Her first assignment with the Citizen was to cover the B.C. women’s curling championship playoffs at the Prince George Golf and Curling Club. Having grown up as a curler in Consort, Alta., she was in her element and her knowledge of the game and familiarity with the players clearly showed in the descriptive stories she wrote. She covered the Spruce Kings and regularly reported on the UNBC Timberwolves, high school sports and minor hockey in her two years with the Citizen.
As a director for the Prince George Sports Hall of Fame, Andrea was a regular contributor to the organization’s collection of written profiles of its members.
Andrea was raised on a grain/cattle farm near Consort. Her Grade 2 teacher, Audrey Lang, was the mother of Consort’s singer-songwriter k.d. lang, and the families knew each other well. Andrea was a huge Garth Brooks fan and shared her soon-to-be-famous neighbour’s love for country music. During harvest season one summer, Kathryn Dawn was working for Andrea’s dad and she came by with her guitar and had it with her in the grain truck to help pass the time while they brought in the crop. Andrea, who was 10 years younger, had fond memories of hearing k.d. play and sing.
Andrea was born in 1972, four years after her brother Stacy. Eight months after Andrea’s birth, her mother Doris died of complications from breast cancer. Her father George, a member of the Consort Lions Club, remarried in 1974 and a year later he and his second wife Marilyn had a daughter, Sherri. George and Marilyn moved to Spruce Grove in 2011 and he died three months ago at age 86.
“I feel like how she was as a kid is very different from how she grew up to be,” said Sherri, from her home in Edmonton. “She was seriously independent even then and fiercely opinionated, whether she was right or wrong, she would fight you to the death, and she was super-stubborn. It was all or nothing with her.
“She was not an athletic, sportsy kid growing up; all that came later in B.C. On the farm, my dad taught us all how to play baseball, but other than that that she wasn’t into a lot of sports. She was a huge Oilers fan and all those years of Gretzky playing she would literally hide in her room and not watch because she thought if she watched she would make them lose. It was a huge superstition thing for her.”
Before she got into journalism, Andrea earned an arts degree, majoring in history at the University of Alberta-Augustana in Camrose, graduating in 1993 with a minor in French. Her desire to learn French stemmed from the time she spent in New Brunswick as an exchange student after she graduated high school in Camrose. She wanted to be a teacher, like her step-mother, but switched to journalism and went on to earn a journalism diploma from Mount Royal University in 1996. Her first newspaper job was at the Mountain News in Rocky Mountain House and she worked there until 2000, when she came to B.C. to work in White Rock with the Peace Arch News. In 2006, she became the editor of the Quesnel Observer and held that position until 2009, when she moved to Prince George to work in the communications department at the College of New Caledonia. She was at CNC until she was hired by the Citizen in January 2014.
The flags at the UNBC campus where Andrea worked in communications were lowered to half-staff this week in her honour. Matt Wood, UNBC’s director of communications and marketing, first got to know her when he worked for the City of Quesnel and she was at the Observer and they’ve been friends for 15 years. The pandemic changed her job description at UNBC significantly and Wood said she was quick to adapt and expand her skill set, using video and social media platforms to better utilize her writing talents to connect with the university world.
“She didn’t do anything halfway, it was always full effort,” said Wood. “She would take on all of it to try and make sure the UNBC story was being told and told well.
“She had a work ethic that was second to none, a get-it-done type attitude. She also understood that people bring different things to a project and recognized when to step back and let others lead in their area of expertise and not be afraid to speak up and share her expertise when it came around,” he said.
“One of the traits I most admired about Andrea was her ability to develop meaningful relationships with people. She would meet you once and she would remember your name and remember who you were and be able to have a good conversation with when next you met. Everybody she met, she wanted to get to know you, and for a public relations person, that’s gold. She was just a natural relationship-builder.”
Andrea was known for her chocolate-covered almond roca and those of us fortunate enough to work in a newsroom or to be considered a friend, we would always look forward to her Christmas deliveries of tins of the sweet treat she made every year. Her smiling face and infectious laugh lit up the lives of those who knew her and she will be sorely missed.
“She was always there for you, if you ever needed any help, she was always willing to give of herself and she was just one of those people you could always count on,” said Jason Peters, a friend and former colleague of Andrea’s in the Citizen sports department. “She had this boundless energy to take on projects, whether it was work-related, with Rotary or the Sports Hall of Fame, she always said yes to any work that was put in front of her. She always had that passion and always did the job.
“She loved her sports and she loved to write, so for her to be able to combine those two passions and tell those stories for readers of the Citizen was just excellent. She was a perfect fit for us at the time.”
The family is planning to have a memorial service at a date yet to be determined. Donations in her honour can be made to the Rotary Foundation.