Walter M. Johnson volunteered with the Orr’s and Bailey Islands Fire Department for more than 20 years.
Walter M. Johnson, a lifelong island resident who served as chief of the Orr’s and Bailey Islands Fire Department, died Aug. 11 at the age of 69.
Johnson was an OBIFD volunteer for more than 20 years, responding to many fires and medical emergencies. He spent 14 years as a captain in charge of truck maintenance and operations, and two years as assistant chief before being named chief in 2015. He spent less than a year in the job before stepping down for health reasons.
“Walter was extremely dedicated,” said William Beazley, who spent 22 years as chief of the department before retiring from the post in 2013. “When he came to the department he was pretty committed. The longer he was involved, he was more dedicated.”
Beazley noted that Johnson was first elected fire captain by a vote of all responding members, a sign of both his knowledge and leadership. During his tenure, he spearheaded the purchase of a new tanker truck for the department, as well as construction of a storage building at the Orr’s Island station.
“He was a real work-with-your-hands kind of guy,” Beazley said.
Ed Blain, who took over for Beazley, said Johnson was the obvious choice for his assistant chief.
“He was really well trained and was really willing to share that information,” Blain said. “He always had my back and was always very helpful. He was a tremendous asset.”
Johnson’s family goes back about a dozen generations in the islands on his father’s side and several on his mother’s side. He grew up on Orr’s Island and was in the last class that graduated from the old Orr’s Island Schoolhouse, which is now owned by the fire department.
“I always appreciated the local perspective he brought to the department. Having that perspective was incredibly valuable,” said Blain, who served in the job for two years before having to step down because of business commitments.
Johnson, who took over for Blain, said at the time that his interest in the department began when he was a child. In those days, a siren would sound to alert the volunteers and Johnson and his boyhood pals would often chase the fire trucks on their bicycles and watch the firefighters work.
As an adult, his work in commercial construction took him out of town for many years, but once he settled down after three decades on the road, he joined the department.
“Next to his family, the fire department was the most important part of his life, and he had many happy memories of the time he served,” said his sister, Marjorie Louise Overlock.
Born on March 18, 1952, in Brunswick, he was the son of the late Reginald F. and Ethelyn M. (Richardson) Johnson. After graduating from Brunswick High School in 1970, he was employed as a carpenter, working for Dahlgren Construction and later Long Cove Builders.
Johnson and his wife, Sally Brooks, were married at the home they built on Orr’s Island. Together, they traveled and camped all over New England and the Maritime provinces in their camper-van. He loved the outdoors, especially fishing and hunting; was a devoted NASCAR fan; and enjoyed spending time with family.
Brooks, a local schoolteacher, died in 2014.
Johnson is also predeceased by his parents, grandmother Ruth M. Doughty and brother Reginald “Reggie” Johnson Jr.
Survivors include his sister, Marjorie Louise and husband Carl Overlock, of Wiscasset; a nephew, two nieces, five great-nephews and nieces; and a great-great-niece; as well as his father-in-law and sister-in-law.
A graveside service will be held at 2 p.m. Sept. 4 at the Bailey Island Cemetery, followed by a celebration of life at the Orr’s Island Schoolhouse, adjacent to the Orr’s Island fire station.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in his name to the Orr’s and Bailey Islands Fire Department, P.O. Box 177, Orr’s Island, ME 04066; or The Willing Helpers, P.O. Box 233, Bailey Island, ME 04003.