Leigh Johnson
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Leigh Johnson

February 23, 1943 -

November 17, 2018

A celebration of life for Leigh Thornton Johnson of Medford, who died Nov. 17, 2018, is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, in the Olsrud Arena at the Jackson County Expo.

Leigh loved his country, and Southern Oregon in particular, touching thousands of lives with his time and resources.

He was born on February 23, 1943 in Oakland, California, to Corwin and Lena (Thornton) Johnson.

When he was 11 years old, his family left the Bay Area and moved to Northern California where his parents operated Bridge Bay Resort on Lake Shasta. During his teens, he helped run the family business and developed a knack for building relationships.

Leigh attended Central Valley High School in Redding, graduating in 1961. He enrolled at Southern Oregon College in Ashland, where he received a Bachelor of Science in business and corporate communications in 1966. During his college years, Leigh developed his business skills at several jobs, including Oak Knoll Golf Course. While working at the golf club he met a variety of business leaders who served as mentors. They saw potential and talent, and were happy to help a young man who wanted more than a paycheck — he wanted to make a difference.

After college, Leigh went to work for Sierra Pacific in Siskiyou County. But his heart was north of the state line and he returned to Ashland to open Leigh's Sports and Hardware in downtown.

As was often the case, Leigh's interests and energies fanned out in multiple directions: He joined the Oregon National Guard in 1968, serving until 1972; he joined the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, quickly becoming president and earning the "Young Man of the Year" award in 1971. Leigh also became a member of the Ashland police reserves in 1970, the same year he ran for the Oregon House of Representatives. He served two terms before the winds of change created by the Watergate scandal swept many incumbents out of office.

Leigh once again turned his attention to business, opening Pony Express Food and Brew in Ashland, which he operated from 1975 until 1983. During that period, he was appointed to the Oregon State Marine Board, serving 1980 until 1983. He served as Congressman Bob Smith's state director 1983 through 1994.

Although he met the love of his life, Nancy Brewold in 1972 while she was working for KTVL's advertising department, more than two decades passed before the two took an interest in each other during a dinner party. On July 4, 1993 Leigh and Nancy were married.

When the congressman retired, Leigh joined the Smith West Co., representing Jeld-Wen, Harry & David, Medford and natural gas interests. Eventually, he worked exclusively with Harry & David and later was named the gourmet food and gift company's vice president of government relation in 2004.

Leigh's efforts paid off in a big way in 2005 when he enlisted the support of Congressman Greg Walden and Senators Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden to spearhead legislation signed by President George W. Bush that allowed Harry & David to pay off its Bureau of Reclamation obligations early, clearing the way for the company to go public.

He later formed his own consulting firm and was a business development officer for People's Bank of Commerce.

Leigh was an influential presence on wide-ranging community and non-profit boards. He was a member of more than 50 boards and commissions, including Asante, ACCESS, Jackson County Fair, Boys Scouts, Medford Water Commission and the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County. He played a key role in the development of the region's largest 4th of July celebration — Red, White and Boom.

Leigh helped out at fundraising auctions for Future Farmers of America. In 1998, Leigh kicked-started the Friends of the Fair Foundation with a $1,000 donation. Today, foundation assets exceed $370,000, with millions more donated over the years. In May 2017, Leigh was given a lifetime achievement award by the foundation.

Leigh had an affinity for water sports, skiing and golf. He raced jet boats up and down the West Coast. Even if he was outgunned on the water, his boat usually won best of show for appearance.

He was preceded in death by his parents. He is survived by his wife, Nancy Brewold-Johnson. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Friends of the Fair Foundation, 3551 E. Barnett #105, Medford, OR. 97504

Printed Obituary
Published in the Mail Tribune
on November 30, 2018
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