New Alexandria man rubbed elbows with political, Hollywood royalty
The insurance business doesn’t typically offer its ranks the chance to meet a future president as well as a world-famous Hollywood actor.
Don’t tell that to Ronald Johnston of New Alexandria, though.
“He had an office in Johnstown, and one day, this man ducked his head into the door and asked to use the facilities,” said Mr. Johnston’s wife, Judith. “Turns out it was Paul Newman, who was filming ‘Slapshot!’ nearby.”
Before he met Judith, Mr. Johnston was traveling on business in Nebraska, and he was waiting for an elevator. When the doors opened, inside was then-Sen. John F. Kennedy, who was in the midst of what would be a successful run for president.
“My husband hesitated for just a second, but John Kennedy stepped forward and asked them to come in,” Judith said. “They made some small talk, and Ron wished him good luck.”
Ronald Carson “Ronnie” Johnston of New Alexandria died Monday, Nov. 19, 2018. He was 87.
Mr. Johnston was born Sept. 22, 1931, in Clarksburg, Indiana County, son of the late Harvey and Melmae (Wilhelm) Johnston.
He met his wife of nearly four decades when they were both working for the same insurance company in Pittsburgh. Mr. Johnston worked in the insurance industry for 59 years, and after work, he enjoyed spending time outdoors.
“He was on the golf course all the time, and he loved working on our lawn,” Judith said. “He loved riding on his lawn tractor, and he also built a bird sanctuary in our yard. We had canaries, we had cardinals, a grosbeak, we’d have migrating birds that would stop, and I have them all marked in our bird book.”
Mr. Johnston also had an excellent singing voice, and would often relax by playing his guitar, Judith said.
“He played mostly slower, country ballads, and without the guitar, he’d sing a lot of Frank Sinatra,” she said.
There is also a better-than-average chance that in his interactions with political and Hollywood royalty, Mr. Johnston had JFK and “Cool Hand Luke” cracking up with laughter.
“He was so charismatic,” Judith said. “He drew people to him without even trying and he could really light up a room with his sense of humor.”
Judith recalled a manager’s meeting where everyone was seated in groups at round tables.
“Of course Ron had everyone at his table in stitches,” she said. “When they were walking out, one of the men at the table said, ‘Ronnie, there were two kinds of people in that room: the ones who were at your table, and the ones who wished they were.’
“We had a beautiful life, and I have memories that will last me the rest of my lifetime,” she said.
Mr. Johnston is survived by his wife, Judith “Judi” (Ferrante) Johnston; daughter Kathleen Elder (Bob) of Blairsville, sons Larry S. Johnston (Pam) of Unity, and Tim Johnston (Juanita) of Youngwood; stepsons Darren Pavlik (Nancy) of Washington Township and Doug Pavlik (Peggy) of Homestead Park; eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren; a brother, Byrne Johnston (Sue) of Martinsburg; in-laws, Joy and Tom Halapin of Murrysville, Tom and Bubba Ferrante of Penn Township and numerous dearly loved nieces and nephews.
Friends will be received from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday, at Bash-Nied Funeral Home, 152 Abbe Place in Delmont, with an 8 p.m. service at the funeral home. Entombment will be private.
Memorial donations can be made to Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 331 Weldon St., Latrobe, PA, 15650; to Alzheimers Research, 22512 Gateway Center Drive, P.O. Box 1950, Clarksburg, MD, 10871-1950; or Action for Animals Shelter, P.O. Box 814, Latrobe, PA, 15650.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MurrysvilleStar.