‘To know Johnny was to love him’

Good Hope City Councilman Johnny Harris passes away at 58

Johnny Harris, right, with his wife, Laura (Courtesy of Greg Brown)

GOOD HOPE, Ala. – Family, friends and the community are mourning the loss of Good Hope City Councilman John “Johnny” Harris, who passed away Monday afternoon at the age of 58 after a six-month battle with leukemia. A Good Hope native, Harris touched many people’s lives as he worked tirelessly to help make the city he loved so dearly the perfect place for families to call home.

Harris worked for the Cullman County Water Department for almost 20 years and served 18 years on the Good Hope City Council. He was first appointed to the council May 12, 1997 and elected to the position in 2000. He chose not to run in 2004 but did run again in 2008.

Harris was a deacon and longtime member of Good Hope Baptist Church.

Harris’ friend, fellow deacon and Councilman Greg Brown said, “To know Johnny was to love him. Most importantly, he was a man of God.”

Harris and his wife, Laura, were very active with the youth groups at church. His love of children could also be seen through his devotion to coaching youth teams and his work with Good Hope Parks and Recreation.

It was Harris’ dedication to playing Santa Claus at the Cullman County Courthouse and in local parades that so many will always remember about him.

Said Cullman County Commission Chairman Kenneth Walker, “He was a great guy. He was Santa Claus, and every year I got a picture with Santa Claus and I have all of them saved. I will definitely miss him.”

In Tuesday morning’s commission meeting Walker said of Harris, “The county lost a very valuable employee yesterday. Johnny Harris worked for the Cullman County Water Department for roughly 20 years. We ask for your prayers for the family. Johnny was a good guy. He always played Santa Claus for us so I’m sure you knew him or seen him or knew of him as Santa Claus, but we really hate that loss.”

Commissioner Garry Marchman struggled to find the words when asked about his friend, saying, “I loved him. He was a good guy. I’m gonna miss Santa Claus. He did a lot. Not just for the county, but for Good Hope. Most of the time he played Santa Claus it was free of charge. We loved him and he’s going to be missed.”

“John was a great guy and a good Christian. He cared about the county and had a heart for the community,” added Commissioner Kerry Watson. “This one touches your heart. We lost a good guy.”

Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman shared, “He was well respected in the community and had been a longtime employee and will be greatly missed. The dedication that he had to the county, people didn’t know, and the reason being is he was one that wasn’t going to be out front flaunting what he did all the time. He’d just get work done and not try to get accolades for it. Those are the type of people you want in government so that things get done and everybody gets the credit and not just one person.”

Representative Corey Harbison, R-Good Hope said in a statement: “I was elected mayor of Good Hope in 2008. Johnny had previously served on the council but had taken a term off. He decided to run again and was elected to serve council Place 1 at the same time I was elected mayor. We served together until 2014 when I was elected to the House of Representatives.

“I had a lot of trust in Johnny and felt like we always worked very well together. First, for me, Johnny was a friend. Someone I felt I could talk to about any issue and trust his advice. He was a great council member for the citizens of Good Hope. He was a great family man for his wife and kids. He was also one of the best Santas around. I enjoyed watching Johnny every Christmas because of the love and joy that he showed when he was in the Santa role.

“I will truly miss him and look back and cherish the things we worked together and accomplished and the times we spent together.”

Good Hope Mayor Jerry Bartlett said of Harris, “I taught school for 28 years and Johnny was one of my students. We’ve always been friends after he became an adult. He was on the council when I was on the council. I was on the council for six years and Johnny was. For five years, I’ve been mayor and he’s been on there with me the whole time. The whole five years I’ve been mayor, he’s been sitting to the right of me.”

Bartlett spoke about Harris playing Santa, smiling, “He always loved that beard, taking care of that beard and dying that beard. He just took a lot of pride in it. He got so many compliments. And the kids…he just loved it and fell in love with being Santa. He always wanted to do it. He’s just a lovable jolly guy that’s always gonna give those kids a hug. He was just a well-loved guy.”

Harris enjoyed spending time with his three granddaughters and was looking forward to the arrival of his first grandson in December.

Said Brown, “That’s what he said he would miss the most. He loved those grandbabies.”

His grandson will be named John.

Harris enjoyed collecting antiques in his spare time. He especially loved restoring furniture and selling it.

According to Brown, Harris and his wife traveled all over looking at antiques and attending estate auctions. He also enjoyed playing golf.

Brown laughed, “We liked playing golf together. We weren’t any good, but we still had fun.”

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019 at Cullman Heritage Funeral Home, where visitation will be from 6-9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 28. See the full obituary here.

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Willow Kilpatrick, 6, whispers in Santa’s ear at the Cullman County Courthouse. (2018, Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)