New mayor takes cues from parents, family business

Published 9:10 am Saturday, July 7, 2012

FRANKLIN—Mayor Raystine Johnson learned a lot from her late parents, Raymond T.H. and Ruth Ernestine Johnson.

In addition to learning the nearly 100-year-old family business at Wm. Johnson and Sons Funeral Home from them, the first-term mayor also took their advice before being appointed to the Franklin City Council in 1999.

“They always told me to be prepared to vote honestly, do what you think is right and discuss your vote and the reasons for it in public and you’ll be fine,” the mayor said. “That’s what I’ve tried to do.”

Franklin’s first elected black and female mayor faced her first political opposition while campaigning for the seat this year against former Mayor Jim Councill and Councilman Greg McLemore. She was first appointed as the Ward 4 representative to council and won unopposed elections in 2000, 2004 and 2008.

“It was different for me,” she said. “It was challenging.”

Johnson said the hardest part of campaigning was making sure “everything is covered.”

“You develop a plan and when implementing it you make sure everything is taken care of,” she said. “I had a wonderful support staff.”

Johnson, who was elected with 44 percent of the vote on May 1, said there are three areas of concern in Franklin she wants to address immediately as mayor.

Chief among them is the economy.

She plans to open more lines of communication with Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. by scheduling more meetings between the City Council and the FSEDI board.

“From my recollection we’ve met with them as a council once in two or three years,” Johnson said. “I think that needs to increase.”

She wants the council to help the FSEDI staff from a government aspect.

“They need to be able to tell us what is needed from a city standpoint,” Johnson said.

She also wants to improve communication with the school board and plans to ask council to meet jointly more regularly.

In addition to scheduling three joint meetings a year with the school board, Johnson also wants herself, the vice mayor and the chair and vice chair of the school board to meet twice a year.

“The more we communicate the more benefit we get from understanding,” She said.

Johnson also wants to work with community partners, like the Boys and Girls Club and others, to develop more activities for youth, like teen nights and movie nights.

Johnson’s council colleagues are eager to work with her.

“Congratulations to the new mayor,” Councilman Benny Burgess said during a swearing in ceremony June 27 in front of a standing-room-only crowd at City Hall. “I look forward to working with her to help move Franklin forward a giant step.”

McLemore called Johnson’s swearing in a historic moment for Franklin.

“I hope as we move forward we can work together and embrace the opportunity to be the best,” he said.

The 1977 Franklin High School graduate, who now owns and manages her family’s funeral home downtown, said she wanted to be a funeral director since a young age.

“I grew up wanting to positively impact people when they’re at their most stressed and the most stress comes during the grieving process,” she said. “No one can take the grief away, but hopefully you can ease the grief through things you do.”

After graduating from FHS, Johnson attended Hampton University to study business management, but came back home to learn embalming from her father when he got arthritis in his hands. She interned at the funeral home in 1979.

Johnson became a licensed mortician in 1982.

In addition to taking over as mayor, helping to make plans for the city and managing a business, Johnson is also preparing for a wedding. She will marry Franklin native Charlie Ashburn Jr. this month. The two have been together 12 years. Ashburn used to work at the funeral home as a funeral attendant, but now is an automotive technician at Franklin Automotive Center.

She is also planning to move into her mother’s house at 1200 South St.