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Brown-Wynne Funeral Home & Crematory

300 Saint Mary's Street, Raleigh, NC

OBITUARY

Freddy Burr Johnson Jr.

January 6, 1940July 19, 2020

“We get a living out of what we make. We get a life out of what we give away.” - Winston Churchill

Fred Burr Johnson, 80, died on July 19, 2020, after a brief but courageous battle with leukemia. Fred approached the end of his earthly life with only gratitude for the rich life afforded him. Known to all as Freddy, he was perpetually kind and caring, almost annoyingly inquisitive about people, and awed by God’s natural world. Above all, he lived with a keen eye for any opportunity, no matter how small or large, to take time to help someone. He modeled what it means to apply one’s resources and unique talents in Jesus’ kingdom-building in this beautiful yet broken world.

Freddy built a big container for himself the first half of his life. He once shared his early motto may have been, “work hard, play hard.” Freddy married Helen Neblett, his childhood sweetheart He built a homebuilding business in Raleigh with his childhood friend Grady Ferrell. Freddy and Helen raised three children.

Facing some business and personal challenges in his 40s, Freddy began questioning his true purpose. Freddy and Helen both awakened in their Christian faiths, which led them down a rugged yet deeply rewarding path less traveled. As he would say later, Freddy decided his ladder had been up against the wrong building. His enduring prayer became that he would be faithful to the task which God created him for. One thing led to another. A week long mission trip in rural Haiti led to six months there. Hearing a call into inner-city ministry, they interned with Bob Lupton in Atlanta, learning what it means to be neighbors to the poor. They then moved back to Raleigh, in a house near the Halifax Court public housing project, long before it became the trendy neighborhood it is today. Hoping to serve that under-resourced community, it was fundamental that they become part of that community. Freddy and Helen were pioneers of sort, with no guidebook, and relying on faith for the resources needed to pursue this journey in ministry.

In time, Freddy and Helen launched Building Together Ministries, which served the Halifax community for over 25 years. Building Together was founded on the principle of walking alongside the under-resourced, as they strove for a better life for themselves and their children. Building Together was a bridge, connecting persons with resources with the under-resourced, across racial lines It was also the genesis for Hope Elementary School, a charter school designed especially for children from lower-income families. Along the way, Freddy and Helen came to understand their role was not so much to serve the poor, but to share what they were learning from their under-resourced neighbors.

Along the way, Freddy found and lived into his unique purpose. He saw untapped gifts and talents in the youth he met through Building Together, and Hearts and Hands for Haiti, a ministry Freddy was active with through the rest of his life. He found purpose in helping such youth overcome their circumstances and live into their own gifts and talents. The stories of youth he came alongside are too many to list. Freddy’s vision was they would be the next generation of leadership in their communities.

Freddy also embraced his unique role as a bridge builder. He kept friends from his pre-ministry days. He never expected anyone to follow his path. Yet, many people of means caught the spirit of Building Together or Hearts and Hands for Haiti, and became engaged and grew in their own faiths as a result. Freddy’s rich life in ministry would not have been possible without the generous financial support and engagement of many people of resources in Raleigh. Freddy was always proud that all three of his children supported this different path their parents had chosen.

Building Together also became an early, unique platform for black and white people of Raleigh to come together to work at racial reconciliation. In addition to mixed-race dinner clubs, there were racial reconciliation conferences led by thought-leaders on the subject like John and Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice, who became mentors and lifelong friends to Freddy. Having grown up in white neighborhoods in Raleigh and returning to live in a predominantly black community, Freddy and Helen, with the emerging black leadership of Building Together, were in a unique position to make this part of their collective ministry. It was hard work. There were stumbles, and personal growth for both Freddy and Helen. Freddy was in a unique position, equally comfortable at the country or racquet club, or in the black church. In his journey, Freddy formed deep relationships with many black men. They in turn knew the true love of a white brother.

Freddy’s discernment of God’s purpose for him came from exercising daily contemplation. Later in life, he was especially guided by the teachings of Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar. Rohr’s message that a rich life came from what one filled their life container with spoke to Freddy. One of his favorite quotes was, “God measures our success not by what we have, but by what we do with what we have.” Freddy shared those teachings with many men in Raleigh, inspiring them to contemplate what they should do in the second halves of their own lives with their gifts and resources.

“Surely it is the highest tribute to the best people we know to use them as best we can, to become, not their disciples, but ourselves.” – Walker Percy.

Camp Sea Gull and its founder Wyatt Taylor were instrumental in shaping Freddy’s character. Freddy was a life-long “camp counselor.” Freddy loved introducing others to new experiences, particularly outdoors, often on water. When his Haitian friends came to the States, with the generosity of people like Tommy Fonville, Freddy would take them jet skiing or tubing at Lake Gaston. Many a people from low-resourced backgrounds in Raleigh or Haiti were introduced to water sports or other new experiences by Freddy.

Freddie and Helen over 30 years led trips to visit the Hearts and Hands schools and orphanage outside Gonaives, Haiti. It was about growth from exposure to the joy of the children, amidst grinding poverty. The participants came from both black and white churches in Raleigh, and ranged from some of the most wealthy people in Raleigh to some of the mothers living in Halifax Court.

Freddy loved any project. The more sweat, dirt, and fellowship involved, the better. As he often said, “many hands make light work.” He packed up his boots and tools and headed out on mission trips after every hurricane. Good luck keeping up with him. Freddy frequented St. Francis Prayer Center, a retreat where he helped maintaining trails on the grounds. In the process, he made an enduring friend in Father Louis Canino, who called Freddy the kindest Christian man he ever met. If there was a big yard or building project, he showed up. His truck was a tool of ministry. For many years, Freddy used his truck to deliver food from the food bank to a neighborhood low income housing apartment complex. To him, spending a day or week helping was not a sacrifice. To the contrary, his time, labor and building intuition was currency to be spent.

And if there was something fun afoot, Freddy wanted in. It did not matter what it was. A hike. A day on the water. Being part of a youth regatta at Camp Sea Gull. A notoriously slow eater, he relished every bite of a good meal, with a glass of wine.

Later in life Freddy, a life-long tennis player, became a Pickleball enthusiast. He thrived in any activity combining physical exertion and human fellowship. He was instrumental in introducing Pickleball at Hayes Barton Methodist these last few years. Ever the camp counselor, he introduced women at the new southeast Raleigh Y to the game.

Freddy is survived by his wife Helen, with whom he recently celebrated a 59-year wedding anniversary; his three children and spouses, Keith and Shelly Johnson, Ashley and Tim Bell, and Kent and Pam Johnson; his sister and her husband, Kate and Tommy Fonville; sister-in-law Jane Neblett; and his six grandchildren, Emma and Ben Johnson, Ross and Andy Bell, and Sarah and KJ Johnson.

In honor of his memory, gifts can be made to: Hearts and Hands for Haiti, heartsandhandsforhaiti.org; The Encouraging Place, theencouragingplace.org; Camp Sea Gull campership fund, www.seagull-seafarer.org/support-camp/endowment; or Hayes Barton United Methodist Church, www.hbumc.org/give.

A private family service celebrating Freddy’s life will occur at 4:00 pm on Friday, July 24th. hbumc.org/live, and available online thereafter. An outdoor gathering of Freddy’s friends and family will be scheduled at a later date, when conditions allow.

In some personal notes found upon his death, Freddy pondered “What is the main thing?” His answer, “the advancement of God’s kingdom.” His wish upon his death was to hear God say, “WELL done, my faithful servant.” May it be so.​

Arrangements by Brown-Wynne Funeral Home, 300 Saint Mary's Street Raleigh, NC.

Services

  • A private family memorial service

    Friday, July 24, 2020

    VIEW VIDEO

Memories

Freddy Burr Johnson Jr.

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Linda Rhyne

August 4, 2020

I was a babysitter for the Johnson family while we lived on Huckleberry Dr. in Laurel Hills back in the 60's. I remember what a wonderful family they were. I remember the surgery that Kent underwent to repair a congenital heart defect and the change it made in his life. They were the best kids. Freddy and Helen were so sweet and giving. And Freddy was so handsome. My parents kept me abreast of what Freddy and Helen were doing at Halifax court! What a tremendous ministry they had there. I know Jesus said "well done my good and faithful servant". You are in my thoughts and prayers! Love in Jesus, Linda

Milo John

July 25, 2020

It is with a heart full of emotion that I manage to share the departure of a hero who remains immortal in the lives of many people. Freddy is not dead he remains alive thanks to his works.
The children's home in Gonaïves, Haiti; hi his departure.
May the God of all comfort be able to console the family in general, his wife Hellen and his children in particular.
May he rest in peace, under the gaze of the Almighty!

Latesha Y

July 24, 2020

My sincere condolences to the loving Helen and the rest of the family in the passing of Freddy. I remember fondly when they moved into the Halifax Court Community. They were there as neighbors, not enablers. I remember our fun times at Building Together Ministries, Participating in the Gifted Hands Programs, after school tutoring, mentor programs, the dinner theatre, our trip to camp Windy Gap and Disney... The list goes on. I pray that God’s Grace keep all those who were touched by Freddy’s Legacy, he was a man of integrity and of his word. Rest now ... God has spoken “ My Good and Faithful Servant” May the family find comfort in his memories.

DorothyJones Harris

July 24, 2020

My prayers are with Helen....one of the best neighbors ever.

Don Laton

July 24, 2020

I'm deeply saddened that Freddy has passed away and offer my sincere sympathy to Helen and the rest of his family. I will long remember the love and service of Building Together Ministries, and other acts of ministry Freddy shared with so many people in so many places, because of his Christian faith and witness. I'm thankful to have known Freddie.

Jennifer Tarman

July 24, 2020

You are all in my thoughts and prayers..

Jennifer Tarman

David Eugene

July 24, 2020

It is with profound sadness I learned the passing of a true hero of the Christian faith. Having served with Freddy on a few occasions in rural Haiti, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for partnering with him to share the gospel in my homeland. Freddy was not only a man of God, but above all a true friend of Haiti. His departure will leave a big hole in the hearts of those who always yearn for his visit in that region. I am convinced he was received with great celebration in glory when his soul took wing to the eternal shores.
A life lived for Christ is a life well lived. You will be missed Freddy! You will be missed by the children at Poteau. See you at the Resurrection and around the tree of life where we will sing the glory of the Lamb for all eternity!

Mike Palmer

July 23, 2020

It was our great pleasure to get to know Freddy over the last few years, he epitomized selfless service, welcoming others and a zest for life that I hope I can emulate. He embodied in every way what it means to live a life well-lived,

Our thoughts are with Helen and family.

Charlotte Oakley

July 23, 2020

My condolences to Helen Johnson and family. So many memories I can share. Freddy served the Halifax Community well, I was resident council president and I recall they closed Winn-Dixie and residents had no transportation to go to other grocery stores. I presented an idea to Freddy and he provided a Van where I could drive residents to nearby grocery store( Food Lion Raleigh Blvd). Many more testimonies of God's servant, Freddy Johnson. To my surprise I graduated with Keith whom I found out to be his son. I know God is saying well done my good and faithful servant. Lovely submitted Charlotte Oakley.

Claire Clyburn

July 23, 2020

What a beautiful life indeed! Keith, you and your family will be in my continued prayers.
grace and peace,
Claire Clyburn

FROM THE FAMILY

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