ST. PETERSBURG – Johnnie B. Mack has been a staple in the community for decades. Her life and legacy was up for display for all to see Sat., Aug 8. People came from as far away as Texas, Maryland and all along the east coast to pay tribute to a woman that couldn’t help but touch the lives of every person she met.
“That’s a testimony to how many people love her,” said her son Kenneth Mack who is grateful for every day with his mom. “What do you say for a woman that has meant so much to so many? There really isn’t anything to say except that she is everything.”
A resident of St. Petersburg since 1958, Johnnie worked for a brief time at Mercy Hospital before leaving the field of nursing and working privately as a domestic helper. She remained in this position until her retirement in 1989.
The community showed up to cheer on Johnnie as she reached her 90th birthday. The Magnuson Hotel and Resort was packed with well-wishers all wanting to show their love and gratitude for the local icon.
“All of you are my family here tonight,” said Kenneth. He didn’t bother with arranging a seating chart for the festivities. “We wanted to make sure when people came they could celebrate her life the way we do as her children.”
Johnnie is known for her unwavering faith and strength. Always there to lend a helping hand, those who spoke had nothing but kind words and fond memories of their many years together.
Goliath Davis refers to Johnnie as “the jewel of St. Pete,” noting her tendency to get involved in whatever needs doing. Her legacy is indelible. In law enforcement she was not only a community organizer for the Fruitland Heights Neighborhood Association where she lived, but was elected its president. She was the first crime watch coordinator for south St. Pete.
“You all won’t believe that she’s 90 because if you saw her come in tonight she did her jig, she did her dance, she does what she always does and just lives with vitality,” said Davis who couldn’t stop professing his genuine love for Johnnie. “I love you and you know that.”
Davis credits Johnnie for many of his successes in the 40 plus years he worked as police chief and deputy mayor here in the city and fondly recalls the crime watch meetings at Johnnie’s house. “She’s got a very special punch,” he revealed.
Although known by her family and friends as a kidder for speaking with everyone in a joking way, she is looked upon with reverence. Her words are always words of wisdom and good direction. Her legacy is rooted in her unselfish donation of her time and energy to anyone and to whatever needed to be done in the community. And she gave freely of herself, no strings attached. “All of that giving, all of that generosity for the city, she did out of the kindness of her heart,” said Davis.
Her infinite wisdom expanded to local elections as well as local causes. Both Davis and former Assistant Chief of Police Cedric Gordon agreed that all it took for a candidate to win was a picture of Johnnie on a poster and her endorsement. “We knew we were going to get people out and vote,” said Davis.
For more than 30 years she has been a constant fixture as a volunteer for the City of St. Petersburg Police Department Resource Center.
Johnnie and Gordon kept the fact that they are cousins to themselves and he joked about her having the nicest equipped resource center in the city. “She would come into my office and say, ‘I need this and I need that,’” said Gordon who usually relented, but Johnnie knew how to get around that.
“The next thing I know I would be getting a call from Goliath saying: ‘Cedric, I know you all got a hundred million dollars down there. You find some money to get Mrs. Mack all that stuff,’” Gordon said as he remarked how no one could understand why she had the best resource center in city.
Johnnie’s kindness and generosity has been evident for decades. CW Wilson transferred to St. Petersburg from Philadelphia back in the late 1960s. Transplanted and knowing no one, Wilson was staying at a hotel when he happened upon Johnnie.
“She went home, talked to her mom and a day or so later, they took me in,” said Wilson who 40 years later can still brag about their closeness. They speak every week even now and Wilson couldn’t hold back his love and admiration for the sweet lady who doesn’t stand a hair over four feet.
The crowd couldn’t hold back tears of laughter though when Wilson whipped out some props to show a comparison to Johnnie back when they were younger to present day. “I wanted to reminisce a little bit,” he said holding up a pair of granny panties.
“This is the way she was when I met her. She’s a little smaller now, about 4’ 5”, and a little thinner. I’ve been trying to get her married for about 40 something years, but no one could come up to her standards. I’d thought tonight I’d jazz it up for her birthday,” he said while putting down the granny panties and holding up a black thong. “For all you guys out there who are looking for a beautiful bride..,” Wilson said as the crowd roared with laughter.
Thomas Packer of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity got the joint roaring when he blurted out: “Your mama’s a cutie.” He remembers making her an honorary member after finding out she was using a secret key to enter the frat house and clean for the men. When he told her she just couldn’t be coming in like that, he decided to pledge her into the fraternity.
“Ms. Mack actually showed up,” he joked and recalled all the frat brothers putting their arms around her as they recited the honorary speech and made her a member forever. “She will tell you she wears a lot of purple and gold and she knows the sign.”
A video presentation showing photos contributed by family and friends was viewed by all while guests enjoyed dinner and a delicious birthday cake for dessert. But before the night came to a close, Ms. Johnnie Mack took a moment to say a few words to all those who came to wish her well and share in her life accomplishments.
I love you and I’m glad that you could come to the birthday of a 16-year-old girl,” she joked. “And on my next party I want everybody to be here with me because I ain’t going nowhere.”