CELEBRATED for service to the community through music, 95-year-old Woolgoolga resident Ron Johnson has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the King’s Birthday Honours 2023.
At his home on Monday 12 June, a gathering of friends, past pupils, Ron’s nephew Scott and those who nominated him for the award, shared memories and affection for the man they call Uncle Ron and ‘Mr Music’.
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There was lots of music, entertainment, fun and laughter, with Ron expertly accompanying the performers.
Everyone who spoke referred to Ron’s passion, commitment and encouragement in bringing music to thousands.
Having first taught music at Taree and Bathurst High schools and lectured at Mitchell College of Advanced Education, Ron Johnson moved to Woolgoolga in 1983.
His “sea change” dream enabled him to swim in the ocean and enrich another community.
He breathed music into his charitable roles across Rotary, VIEW Club, Red Cross, U3A, and especially into his volunteer work in schools where he inspired the talents and confidence of students to deliver amazing performances.
The Woolgoolga High School musical events typically involved 100-200 students directly and indirectly from a total school population of 600.
The musicals included ‘Man of Steel’, ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ and ‘The Boyfriend’.
For many students the musicals were the highlight of their schooling years.
Ron was also very involved in the All Age Theatre, the local Woolgoolga theatrical company run by two local drama teachers, Elwyn Pilgrim and Jan Clement.
Such variety in ‘retirement’ has enabled Ron to showcase dancers, choirs, amateur theatre, bands, and many comedy routines by mature aged groups.
Pupils of Ron’s private tuition in piano and singing have shared affection for their teacher.
“Mr Johnson brought fun, joy, and humour to the diligence and rigour needed to master music as an art,” Damon Shorter said.
“He saw music as a life skill that would enrich one’s life and took obvious delight in fostering a love of music in his pupils.
“My life would have been poorer had I not had the immense good fortune to encounter Ron in my early years – and I will always be grateful for this luck.”
“I knew Ron when he taught my daughter piano and singing and when he was musically directing the High School Shows,” Daph Doland said.
“I also took singing lessons with him.
“He was always most patient and very encouraging.
“Later I attended his University of the Third Age (U3A) classes, where I was exposed to his immense knowledge and skill and was able to appreciate, understand and enjoy the sheer beauty of classical music more fully – an appreciation that has stayed with me and is now part of my daily life.
“In my case… ’food for the soul’.”
“Ron was also an incredible role model for the local youth,” Vivienne Shorter said, “selflessly offering up his home for talent quest rehearsals and collaborations for any creative pursuit that arose.
“Ron encouraged unity between friends and brought out the best in the most challenging teenager.
“He appreciated that skill was not always given equally.
“Poor rhythm and flat singing was embraced without judgment or ridicule.
“Ron’s environment was a safe haven for all,” she said.
By Andrea FERRARI