Chief Barry Johnson Interview

“If you treat people the way you want to be treated yourself, respect will come naturally.”
Words from Chief Barry Johnson of the Gardner-Webb University Police on Friday, February 24, 2012. Chief Johnson was born and raised in Wilmington, North Carolina; he attended Gardner-Webb from fall of 1981 to spring of 1985 and has now been working for the campus police since 1989.
Chief Johnson was interviewed about his life up to becoming a law enforcement officer, and what kind of experiences he has had juggling being a family man and the Chief of Police at a University. There is a lot more than what meets the eye with one of the most important and people on campus.
Chief Johnson serves as a sort of father figure to the students on Gardner-Webb’s campus. He stated that throughout his life, if he could name anyone as being a role model for him, it would be his dad or granddad. He said “they were the ones who tried to teach him the most and that he tries to model himself after them…. He looks at what they have accomplished throughout their lives and has wanted to do it too because he is proud of the things they have done.
Growing up, Chief said that he was not much a trouble maker and was a fairly “good kid.” He has fond memories of growing up going on vacations with his family to Rightsville Beach in North Carolina and remembers one particular vacation to Maggie Valley in the North Carolina Mountains with his mom, dad, and sisters.
Throughout grade school, Chief was very involved in sports, he was an all-around athlete. He played JV football his 10th grade year of high school and Varsity his 11th and 12th grade years as linebacker; this is the sport he enjoyed most and was most passionate about in high school. He was also the catcher for his high school’s JV team his 10th grade year, then for Varsity his 11th and 12th grade years. The sport he was best at and was a Varsity member all three years of in high school was wrestling. Chief wrestled at 119 pounds and wen 19-0 his senior year. He ended up not being able to finish out the season as he was forced to sit out right before the tournaments with cauliflower ear; a common injury in wrestling.
After high school, deciding to attend Gardner-Webb was a choice that Chief Johnson didn’t even need to think twice about. Chief’s brother attended Gardner-Webb first in his family, then his sister, and finally his cousin. So, “it was only natural that Johnson’s from Wilmington went to Gardner-Webb.”
Chief shared some of the differences in how Gardner-Webb was when he attended it back then and what kind of University it has changed into today. He said, “The choices you had back then were different.” “If you went to the caf and they were serving meat loaf for dinner, you ate meat loaf, or you did not eat dinner.” He thought that back then you had nobody but yourself to blame for getting into any kind of trouble, but now, “there are too many choices….well, maybe not too many, but definitely more than there used to be.”
Chief’s athleticism continued through college and he stayed very involved. He played football for Gardner-Webb and was a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). He also played intermural sports including flag football, softball, and basketball, which he claims to have not been very good at. When asked about his academics, he chuckled a little when he said that he “attended summer school and was a member of the biology club.”
Gardner-Webb did not have a student workout center when Chief attended like the one that is now available. He said “there were pool tables in the bottom of the Dover Campus Center (DCC) and that was about it… When he worked out, he would go the football weight room and he ran a lot.” Overall, described his experience at Gardner-Webb as a good and memorable one, mainly because it is where he met his wife.
While taking summer school classes, Chief worked as a life guard at the pool on campus, Mitzi, who is now his wife, also worked there as a life guard with her twin sister. While Chief had just finished his freshman year when he worked at the pool, Mitzi was still high school but because her father worked as the Provost on campus, she and her sister were given jobs. Chief was originally more interested in Mitzi’s twin, but Mitzi was more interested on him since he was a “blonde haired, blue eyed life guard.” He said, “I could have gotten either one of them, but I chose the other one (with a little chuckle).”
The first date Chief took Mitzi on was to the movie theater in Shelby to see “Officer and a Gentleman”. The school year following that summer, when Chief was a sophomore and Mitzi was just a senior in high school, they started dating, in 1982. They dated for the remainder of Chief’s college career and all of Mitzi’s. Upon graduation, Chief attended the Coast Guard for two years, and then married Mitzi on May 27, 1987 on Gardner-Webb’s campus in the Dover Chapel.
Chief had joined the Coast Guard because he had always wanted to help people. He said he “wanted to help people in distress and loved boats and the ocean.” He said it was hard dating Mitzi for the first two years when she was still in college. Those two years he spent at Atlantic Beach and didn’t enjoy being away from his family and his girlfriend because the boats would stay gone for one to two months at a time where he would not be able to communicate with anyone.
Chief did enjoy the fact that while he was in the Coast Guard, he was able to travel and see many places. He traveled from Novascosha, all the way to Cuba. He said, “You ever been to Cuba? No? You need to go sometime (with another one of his chuckles).” When his four years were finally up though, he got out and got a job at the Carteret County Sheriff’s office, named after Lord Carteret from England, it’s discoverer in Beaufort, North Carolina.
Hannah Johnson, Chief and Mitzi’s first child was born in 1990, after being married for three years. Clayton Scott Johnson, their second child and named after Chief’s uncle, was born in 1992. He said that “when your kids do things you can be proud of that is unexpected of them, like helping someone or committing an unselfish act of kindness towards someone, makes you feel like you are a successful parent.” Chief said that he loves being able to give his kids things that he and Mitzi were not able to have as sons and daughters. He “loves being a parent at Christmas time and giving them surprises that they have no idea are coming.”
Having kids and being an officer can at times be a hard thing to deal with though. Chief said that the hardest thing to deal with is that “expectations are so high on the kids of law enforcement officers. It sometimes puts them in an uncomfortable predicament or bad situation with their friends or their friends’ parents.” He compared it to being the son or daughter of a preacher. He said that “the expectations of doing no wrong are unrealistic, when naturally the deck is stacked against them because at their age, they are bound to make mistakes.”
When Chief Johnson first started working as a Gardner-Webb police officer, it was 1996 and he started out on night shift. He said that for two and a half years he would work and go to school, just to be taking some classes while he was there. When the Chief position opened, he knew he wanted it and although he had not been there a long time, he got it! He had to work to gain respect around campus. He said, “If you treat people the way you want to be treated yourself, respect will come naturally,” which is what happened for him.


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