Q: Let's start at the beginning. Let's start in Macon in your early days. Tell us a bit about growing up in Macon, your family and what your early childhood years were like.
TJ: Well, I was born September 30, 1941 in Macon. It was a much delayed, but much awaited moment in my mother's life. She was in her early mid 30’s at the time, having tried unsuccessfully to have a child earlier. Actually the doctors had said to her that there was no chance that you will be able to become pregnant, but she did and I came into the world. I am the only child of Josephine Brown Johnson and Wyatt Johnson. My mother worked as a clerk in a very small grocery store 6 days of the week. My dad was a sort of a happy go lucky guy who held all types of odd jobs among them, selling watermelons out of his red International pick-up truck during the summers and selling wood out of his truck during the winters. As I recall, some of my youngest memories, were working with him on that truck. It was 25 cents for each watermelon or 5 for a dollar, or 25 cents for a number two galvanized tub of wood, or 5 trucks for a dollar. I'll never forget it. My mother had a high school education and so wanted to go to college. Her father like many fathers at the time, didn't think that girls should go to college so he wouldn't fund her education to college. My dad had a third grade education, but was a terrifically spirited person. I was influenced by those two people enormously. My mother throughout my young years was always saying to me, "Tommy, if you work hard and do right, you can accomplish anything you want in life." She must have told me that dozens of times. I actually came to a point where I believed it, that if I worked hard and did right, I regret that she did not also say to me, I should learn to play. Play was not much part of my life. My dad also set an example for me. He was not responsible. He was a wonderful person in so many ways, but he was somewhat irresponsible. That influenced me, that I was going to be very responsible in my life and I was going to take care of my mother and take care of my family when I got to that point. It's amazing when I take a look back at the very influence in early years of those two parents on my life.
Q: Selling watermelons and selling wood off the back of a truck must have been hard work. It must have made you appreciate what it took to earn a quarter.
TJ: It did! I didn't consider it hard work. I mean....interestingly enough, in a lifetime, I've never had a job I didn't love. Starting with the work, as I said, on that red International pick-up truck.
Q: You found a way to make some money stringing for the Macon Telegraph. Tell us about that.
TJ: That was probably the next passage I'd gone to. Alexander II, public schools in Macon, I went to Lanier Junior High for boys and Lanier Senior High, but it was really clear to me by the ninth grade that I needed to get a job. I needed to get a job so I could help to defray some of my own expenses, but so that I could also help to lighten the load that my mother was carrying. In the ninth grade at Lanier Junior High, there was an announcement by the English teacher that the Macon paper had an opening for a high school sports stringer to just bring in the high school sports scores. The first person who went down to apply for it was told about how much work went with it and decided not to do it. The second person who was recommended for the position went down to see the sports editor, Sam Glassman, and was told how much work was involved in it and didn't do it. I was the third choice and I went down and talked with Sam Glassman, then the sports editor, and I just knew this is what I wanted to do. I mean it was like I just connected with him and then with the people in that newsroom who, I think to some extent, almost treated me like one of their own. They knew that my mother would come down and pick me up in the evenings after she got off from work and after sometimes after 11 o'clock at night to get home. I couldn't drive at that point, but I just fell in love with those people in that newsroom...with covering sports. I did it, of course, during all the way through high school, all the way through twelfth grade full time in the summers. The more I did it, the more training they provided me, the more enthusiasm I developed for journalism.