Jimmy Johnson recently celebrated his 80th birthday. From enlisting in the Navy to founding Waccamaw Community Foundation, Jimmy has always focused on service to others, but what is perhaps most rewarding for Jimmy is that his example has inspired others to follow his lead in supporting the causes and communities they care about most.
A long-time resident of Conway, Jimmy discovered one of his biggest passions, education, early on. He enrolled at Coastal Carolina Junior College after getting out of the Navy back when Coastal Carolina University was still a fledgling community college. He stayed involved after graduation, serving as Coastal’s first Board Chair and leading the school’s effort to become an independent four-year college. The experience gave Jimmy “a pretty close look at higher education.”
Family is what keeps Jimmy committed to the cause, though. “I want all our grandchildren to be educated, so I see the importance of education through my family,” he explained.
Beyond education, Jimmy is also committed to other community organizations like his church, homeless shelter and food bank. Thirty years ago, he even founded a home for abused, abandoned and neglected children. Though out of business now, the home served 6,000 children over 25 years.
Through his involvement at Waccamaw, Jimmy truly led in the effort to inspire increased, more intentional philanthropy in the community. His knowledge of and connection to community foundations in other regions helped inspire the original 12 board members to launch Waccamaw Community Foundation in 1999.
“I didn’t see it as a chore,” Jimmy explained of his time on the Waccamaw board. “And that’s one thing you bump into a lot. ‘Well, what’s in it for you?’ Well, it’s that you’re helping your community.”
At Waccamaw, Jimmy is most proud of connecting donors to support community needs. He takes charge himself – he holds three funds here and encouraged donors and nonprofits alike to start endowments. Ultimately, though, Jimmy’s philanthropy is driven by his faith and desire to instill good values in his grandchildren.
The Johnson’s Christmas gift tradition is one personal example that stands as a testament to Jimmy’s ability to inspire others to give back. As each of his four daughters married, instead of buying each other gifts for Christmas, the sisters would draw each other’s names out of a hat and do something charitable in her sister’s honor the following year. Now, the older grandchildren have asked when they can take part, happy to forsake actual gifts for the chance to participate in something bigger than themselves.
The Christmas story alone would be cause to celebrate. That it is one of many ways he gives back is a testament to Jimmy himself.