Johnson shares post-county administrator plans

Published 5:57 pm Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Michael W. Johnson’s tenure as Southampton County administrator, which began in January 1996, comes to a close with his retirement June 30, and the next chapter of his working life will begin with no delay.

Michael W. Johnson

“I’m excited to be joining the staff of The Elms Foundation,” he said. “The Elms Foundation coordinates the work of three other foundations — the Camp Foundation, the Ruth Camp Campbell Foundation and the Camp-Younts Foundation. So I will be joining them in July, working alongside retiring Executive Director Westbrook Parker through the fall grant cycle so that I can better understand the day-to-day operations before succeeding him when he retires at the end of the calendar year.”

Johnson shared some background information on the foundations, alluding to what his responsibilities will address.

“The Camp Foundation was formed by the founders of Camp Manufacturing Company, which later grew into Union Camp Corporation, and it was created back in the 1940s to provide funding for local parks, for playgrounds, for hospitals and also to support charitable work performed by social service organizations, churches (and) local nonprofits,” he said. “The other two foundations — the Ruth Camp Campbell Foundation and Camp-Younts Foundation — were subsequently created by other Camp family members that just had a deep and abiding love for the Franklin-Southampton and Isle of Wight community.

“So over the course of the past 80 or so years, these foundations have really directed millions of dollars in scholarships for local students as well as grants to charitable organizations, and the impact that those gifts have had on the Franklin-Southampton-Isle of Wight community is really immeasurable,” he added.

Johnson shared what motivated him to want to make the move from county administrator to The Elms Foundation executive director.

“I had put a lot of thought into what the next opportunities may be, and with Judge Parker’s planned retirement coming up, this was just an ideal opportunity for me to continue the work of community building, taking a lot of the same skills that I’ve developed over my many years here in Southampton County and using them in a way that can help improve the quality of life in this community,” he said.

He highlighted The Elms Foundation’s notable legacy as he shared his reaction to receiving the opportunity to direct the organization.

“I’m humbled and deeply honored with this opportunity to help continue the strong legacy of generosity by the Camp family and maintain the tradition of devoted community service and leadership established by the three previous executive directors: Harold Atkinson, Bobby Worrell and Westbrook Parker,” he said. “I’ve had the privilege of personally knowing each of these men and am following in the ‘footsteps of giants.’ These men have all had a deep understanding of the local community and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to improve the quality of life here. I look forward to accepting the torch and continuing to build upon their efforts.”

Johnson, 61, is a native of Southampton who has been a county employee for nearly 37 years. He shared some insight into the county administrator role that he has served in for 26 1/2 years. 

“The truth is, in this job, you’re never really off the clock,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s Saturday afternoon or Sunday night, you may be contacted by folks in the community, you may be contacted by board members, so you are really on call all the time in this position.”

Over the past 37 years, he has attended more than 800 night meetings, according to his estimate, and he admitted that he was pleased his new position will have very few, if any, meetings in the evening.

“Most of the work is done between the hours of 9 (a.m.) and 5 (p.m.), so that’s a good thing,” he said.

With this adjusted work-life balance, he is looking forward to spending more time with his family.

“I have one granddaughter and another granddaughter on the way in September, so certainly I am looking forward to spending some time with them,” he said.

In his final month on the job, Johnson has been helping the new county administrator, Brian S. Thrower, get situated in the position.

“I have tried to make sure that I have gotten him introduced to all of the other stakeholders in county government — the constitutional officers and the department heads, and obviously he already knew the board members — but making sure that he knows who they are and where they are located,” Johnson said. “We have spent a fair amount of time going over details of the courthouse renovation project and myriad other things, just trying to make sure that he has a good understanding of where information is filed when he may need it in the future.”