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Remembering Jeff Johnston

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Photo courtesy of the famly
Photo courtesy of the famly

Even though he would be the first to protest this announcement, the family of Jeffrey Brent "Jeff" Johnston must sadly confirm that their "big bro" passed away at age 65 on August 21, 2021, after struggling for some time with heart disease and kidney cancer.

Jeff was born in Puyallup, the second son of the late Art Johnston and Carol Johnston (née Etherington). He was raised in Eugene, Oregon, after his family moved there in 1958. He was a very big, even fat, toddler. He later grew so tall and lanky that by age 11 he was "big bro" to all his siblings, because he towered over them.

Jeff loved sports, and his height made him a natural candidate for basketball. At South Eugene High School, he played on the varsity team. His coach Dale Jones happily listed this very skinny player at 6'7" to intimidate opponents. But apparently he was not intimidating enough: the team finished eighth (out of sixteen) in the 1974 state championship tournament, narrowly losing the consolation bracket championship game.

Jeff continued playing basketball on the varsity team at Lane Community College in Eugene until knee injuries forced an end to his athletic career. He later recalled being recruited for a basketball scholarship by Idaho State University, but scorned the idea of living in "Pokey-tello." Little did he know that a few years later, lowly Idaho State would upset mighty UCLA in the NCAA tournament!

After he and his family relocated from Eugene to the Seattle area in 1977, Jeff remained an ardent, lifelong fan of University of Oregon sports, proudly wearing his Fighting Duck apparel for any occasion, whether formal or informal.

Growing up, Jeff had an amazing range of talents. He was an excellent musician. Thanks to training from his piano teacher, Miss Wanda Eastwood, he performed with success in local competitions. He also played the French horn so well that in 1969 he won admission to a summer music camp in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and stayed there with his uncle, Robert Etherington, the town doctor.

Jeff also excelled at mathematics, the only one of his siblings to complete an advanced calculus course. This delighted his father, an engineer, since Jeff's brothers and sister were pursuing less useful subjects, such as languages, history, and special education. His siblings also remember with dismay his prowess in every kind of board and card game. He won so often that they nicknamed him "The Cheater."

Jeff's math skills served him well during the long career in retail and distribution management that he began in Seattle, although some of his jobs required other "soft skills" as well. One of the first was managing a 7-11 store whose staff sometimes summoned him to relieve them in the middle of the night after unspecified "incidents" involving crime (armed robbery) or the suspicion of crime (cash missing from the register).

Another of Jeff's early employers was a new "members only" discount warehouse store chain, where he trained food sample presenters. He apparently wasn't convinced by this company's business model, perhaps because it required his trainees to hawk products branded with the unexciting name of the store's suburban headquarters location: Kirkland.

He later worked as manager of the shipping dock at the old Bon Marché store in downtown Seattle, but left that position after becoming frustrated from dealing with his employees' union, the Teamsters. Jeff ended his career as warehouse manager at the Ocean Beauty Seafoods facility in Ballard, retiring from there when it closed in 2017.

In retirement, Jeff divided his time between travel, attending musical theater, working seasonally at T-Mobile Park, gardening, and meeting often with his many friends. Jeff was a true gourmand who loved to eat and drink well, in ample portions, as so many of his social media posts show. He especially enjoyed Zatarain's jambalaya mix and once suggested an entire case of it as a Christmas gift.

Jeff requested cremation, so his family is planning a memorial event (pandemic permitting) later this year for family and friends.

The Madison Pub hosted a remembrance event for him on August 28. Many thanks to all who attended to celebrate his memory!

Jeff is survived by his brothers, Mark Johnston and Phillip Johnston, sister Lori Johnston-Baker, beloved friend Ng Aik "Justin" Keat, five nieces and nephews who adored him, and many, many other friends, all of whom will deeply miss his gregarious, outgoing character, his generosity, his loving spirit, and his joie de vivre. It will be very, very hard to fill his size 15 shoes!