William James Johnson, known to all as Bill, died Thursday at age 85 while at his winter home in Juno Beach, Fla.
A son of New Jersey who found the love of his life in Tennessee, Bill was born in North Arlington to William and Anne Johnson before moving to Dover and starring on the high school football field. A scholarship led him to Alabama before a knee injury sent him to rival Tennessee and a meeting with Marilyn Fretwell, who became his wife of 64 years. They were married in April 1953, shortly before his graduation day.
The newlyweds were divided by the Korean War, where U.S. Army First Lt. Johnson served before returning to New Jersey, settling in Upper Montclair and raising seven children: Billy, Margie, Stacey, Chris, David, Ames and Jimmy. Decades later he became the devoted grandfather of 10 who knew him as “Pap” – an honorific passed on from his father-in-law Bill Fretwell.
Bill became an avid fan of the Montclair High School Mounties, and remained a follower of his alma mater Tennessee’s fortunes – including a 1998 national football championship. He was a longtime Giants season ticketholder and fan of Big Blue from the Yankee Stadium days of Y.A. Tittle and Frank Gifford through the Super Bowl success of Eli Manning and David Tyree. And he stood on many sidelines and inside lots of gyms watching his kids and grandkids play an assortment of sports across the decades: Football, lacrosse, track, field hockey, wrestling, baseball.
He liked to share thoughtful advice and laugh at good (and bad) jokes, or spin a vintage tale from a life lived well: Seeing a young Bruce Springsteen in a seaside bar, watching the fights in the old Madison Square Garden, catching Frank Sinatra with Marilyn, taking a grandkid to see Louie the Yak, hosting the whole family at the Jersey shore.
Bill also became a Montclair fixture in the pews of St. Cassian’s Church, where he was a daily Communicant, served as a lector and saw daughters Margie and Ames get married. He was an inductee of the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1999, and the original coach of the Montclair Cobras youth football team.
The founder of the Gaffney Food Co. and president of DelSaCo Foods in East Rutherford, he was christened the “Salad King of America” in a New York Times article before his retirement.
He was a longtime supporter of the York Street Project in Jersey City, helping homeless and needy women and children. His ceaseless generosity of heart and soul to family, friends and those less fortunate remains as Bill’s legacy for those fortunate enough to know him.
A mass of Christian burial will be offered on Tuesday at 10AM at Saint Cassian Church, 187 Bellevue Avenue. Visiting hours will be from 4-8PM on Monday at the Hugh M. Moriarty Funeral Home, 76 Park Street Montclair, NJ.
For directions and online condolences please visit www.moriartyfh.com
In lieu of flowers please consider the York Street Project
89 York Street
Jersey City, NJ 07302