Providing aid is way of life for Johnson

John Steadman

June 12, 1991|By John Steadman

That Dave Johnson, who makes a living playing baseball for the Baltimore Orioles, would see a woman and a small child in distress, with a car that's out of fuel on an interstate highway, and stop to lend assistance, is not exactly an upset. He has always personified what the Good Book tells us -- "to be our brother's keeper."

Because Joyce Caldwell was so grateful for Johnson's consideration, she wrote a letter to the editorial page of The Sun to express her feelings and now a large segment of the reading world knows about it, too. There's applause for Johnson.

In some ways, he seems uncomfortable with all the attention this simple unpretentious act created. It couldn't be correlated to Willie Miranda, a former Oriole, who once ran into a burning building in Baltimore to rescue a man, but it was one of those occasions in life that was so special it was important. Certainly to the mother and her 4-year-old son.

Johnson's wife, Tera, said her husband didn't mention the incident until several days elapsed. "Dave casually remarked when he saw the woman and her situation he related it to me . . . what if I had been in the same predicament," explained Mrs. Johnson. "I know he would have been appreciative if someone had stopped to be of assistance to me. The lady he helped wrote him a letter and said how thankful she and her husband were for his help."

Would any other Oriole have done it? Probably. It's called being a good citizen. But not all drivers, baseball players or whatever they do for a living, would have stopped to transport her to a service station and return to put gas in the empty tank. Some may have been in a hurry or preoccupied with their own plans of the day. All the Caldwell family knows is Johnson was there when they needed him.

But, again, Dave Johnson is an extraordinary human being. At age 16, when the lure might have been to more diversionary things, like going to the roller skating rink or the dance at the recreation center, he gave his free time, away from school, to driving an ambulance for the Middle River Volunteer Rescue Squad. Athletes, as a rule, are more concerned with themselves than doing for others.

Not Johnson. It tells us much about Dave the boy and Johnson the man. He has always been involved with corporal works of mercy. That comes from his parents and the kind of home environment he was favored with in his formative years. He wasn't allowed to grow up like some kind of a weed but had direction and encouragement from those who set the example -- his mother and father.

Asked once to relate how it was to drive an ambulance, he recalled, "Some of the things I saw I would like to forget but, you know, I just can't. Too often, usually on a Friday or Saturday night, there were some bad accidents we'd be called out to handle. You'd see kids in their young teens with broken bodies. A few were killed before we could even get them on their way to the hospitals."

That's all in Dave Johnson's past. But it was the path he took to adulthood. That he would be responsible enough now to lend a hand to a woman and a child in need is actually what's come to be expected of him. "What I did was merely try to help a woman who ran out of gas and was stranded by the side of the road," he said. "I don't understand all this attention."

On the morning Johnson came to her aid, he was headed for Children's Hospital and a scheduled treatment for a leg injury, which is why he is on the team's inactive list. Responding as he did, much like a Good Samaritan, was a reflex action. He tried to assure the woman by his presence that he was a man of the community, with a sense of responsibility, by telling her simply that he was "with the Orioles." Then he introduced himself.

Not a momentous act of courage or heroism. To treat it as such is an inaccurate assessment and a stupendous case of exaggeration. It only causes Johnson to feel uncomfortable. The public, though, perceives professional athletes as being so self-centered they can't identify with the every day problems of the general populace. Wrong.

What Johnson demonstrated was one citizen's concern for others. He epitomizes what a good neighbor is supposed to be in what, unfortunately, is an era of cynicism and mistrust. Dave Johnson upgrades any neighborhood. Having him living next door would be comforting.

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