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Remembering David Johnson

Dear Editor,

It would be greatly appreciated if you would print this letter to remember a fallen colleague and friend, David Livingston Johnson.

Though very slender of build and quiet of demeanor, David Johnson was a tourism giant and a Bahamian patriot of the highest order. Why is he worthy of such a lofty description? Because he achieved great things which accrued to the benefit of The Bahamas.

For example: Under David’s leadership as senior regional manager at the Bahamas Tourist Office, New York, in 1980, the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation through a partnership with top wholesalers and tour operators, started a tour program from Newark International Airport to Nassau. This (air/hotel inclusive package) product was promoted in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area via scheduled service by Bahamasair. From this initiative, The Bahamas welcomed over 568,000 visitors from the New York Metropolitan area, benefitted from approximately 1.7 million hotel room nights and received $682 million in foreign exchange into its economy between 1980 and 1989. And this is but one example.

The initiative described above did not happen in a vacuum. The conditions on the ground at the time were severe and bleak, to say the least. American Airlines had recently cancelled its flight from JFK Airport to Nassau. Consequently, The Bahamas had no direct air service from New York, one of its most important tourism markets. There was a need for boldness. There was need for calculated risk-taking. And it took place under David Johnson’s leadership.

To add more context, The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation had to re-invent itself in the face of quickly unfolding change. The most dramatic was the U.S. Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 initiated by President Jimmy Carter, which came “into force” in 1980. In a newly deregulated environment, established airlines found themselves facing unbridled competition from upstart competitors. And some of them did not survive. Likewise, traditional wholesalers found themselves facing unbridled competition from newly created technology-driven distribution companies. Some of them did not survive. And these changes are reverberating even today. It was people like David Johnson who kept The Bahamas abreast of evolving change.

David had the good fortune to be posted at the Bahamas Tourist Office in Canada during the advent of the Inclusive Tour Charter (ITC) phenomenon in 1974. This is when deeply discounted air and hotel packages with nonstop charter flights were introduced from Toronto to the Jack Tar Resort in West End by Adventure Tours, bringing thousands of Canadians to Grand Bahama Island. So, David was fortunate to acquire arcane knowledge of the tourism industry which he gladly put to use for the benefit of The Bahamas.

But there is a caveat. Back then, conventional wisdom was that Bahamians could not be trusted to function in the crucible. Bahamas Tourist Offices and all promotion boards were managed by foreigners. The important function of representing The Bahamas in such a vital tourism development role, some felt, was more appropriately left for others who “looked like” the customers that The Bahamas was seeking to attract. So, there was an experiment. In 1971, the government placed the first six Bahamians to train in the Bahamas Tourist Office in Detroit. The group passed the test with flying colors! And thus, the stage was set to place Bahamians in the sensitive top Bahamas Tourism Office management positions. David Johnson was the youngest member of that first group.

To wit, David’s career in tourism had clear historical impact. To some extent, it is a fitting prism through which to view the youth development aspirations of the country, at large. Bahamians now working in a decidedly seamless way in respective Bahamas Tourist Offices throughout the world today stand firmly upon the slender shoulders of David Johnson and others who preceded them.

History will record that David Johnson rose to the heights of director general of tourism in 2008; and performed with distinction in that position for seven years. He held the post of executive vice president of the Grand Bahama Island Promotion Board. In this post, he labored mightily to build up Grand Bahama Island into the tremendous tourism brand that it is destined to become. He served as president of the Tourism Development Corporation and from 1987 to 1991 he served as managing director of Bahamasair.

David Johnson’s success in tourism was no fluke. It speaks to the training poured into him. It speaks to his discipline. It speaks to his sense of duty. It speaks to his aptitude and his strategic understanding of tourism. It speaks to his ability to build relationships with key tourism partners and to negotiate effectively. Also, it speaks to the confidence that he inspired in successive directors general of tourism, ministers of tourism and by extension, prime ministers.

A lesser known and even more highly underappreciated aspect of David’s success was the role that his wife, Sabrina, played in supporting him. From the start, she deliberately kept herself in the background and supported him to the hilt. Theirs was a marriage of love, care and affirmation which mushroomed and endured, through thick and thin, for 42 years.

If David were able to say what he felt was his greatest accomplishment, he would probably point to his marriage and having had the opportunity to serve and in some small way to pave the way for his sons, Shane and Butch, and other young people like them from neighborhoods like Englerston, Sunlight Cottage and Oakes Field where he resided.

David Johnson’s earthly sojourn has ended. When he had the opportunity, he sought to mentor younger professionals to the best of his ability. I and many others were beneficiaries of this. This is but a small opportunity to briefly lament his passing; and to share a little about the enormous impact of his efforts upon the country’s development.

His legacy is now for the ages. David Johnson was also a man of faith; so he willingly and wholeheartedly embraced Job’s lament in chapter 14, verse two, which says: “Man is like a flower that springs up and fades, swift as a shadow that does not abide.”

Outlined below is a poem I wrote entitled “To Serve” that I would like to share, in David Johnson’s memory. May his soul and the souls of the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen!

 

To serve

To serve: it is my sacred trust,

To give my Lord the best of me,

To venture where I cannot see;

To stumble, if I must.

To serve: it is my highest call,

To answer, then do even more!

To break down every battened door,

To get up, if I fall.

To serve: no matter what the cost!

To do, despite what others do,

To set my compass, tried and true,

To save what could be lost.

To serve: it is my greatest gift,

To have another hill to climb,

To carry those still left behind;

To nurture and uplift.

To serve: it is my bonded fate,

To sacrifice, to persevere,

To overlook, to show I care;

To act, but not too late!

– Tyrone G. Sawyer

 

 

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