Over the past 40 years, Senior Deputy Beverly H. Johnson has purchased many pens, pencils and sheets of paper.
She has also bought dozens of dictionaries with her own money – always with the intention to simply give them away.
The recipients? Inmates at the City of Williamsburg jail.
“There were some people who couldn’t leave the jail, so I told them to pick out words in a magazine they didn’t understand and look them up,” Johnson said. “Then I told them to find the words they do understand.”
In Johnson’s eyes, people are people, no matter where you meet them.
For two decades, Johnson worked at the City of Williamsburg jail, keeping the facility secure and inmates safe. After the jail closed and the courthouse moved to its current building on Monticello Avenue, Johnson worked almost two more decades with the Williamsburg-James City County Sheriff’s Office.
But while Johnson’s job has been to uphold the law in Williamsburg and James City County’s courts, she also has had another focus.
“I helped the people any way I could,” she said.
On Thursday, after 40 years on the job, Johnson, 63, is hanging up her uniform for good.
Against the odds
Johnson was 23 when she was hired to work at the Williamsburg City Sheriff’s Office.
Johnson’s interest in law enforcement may have started during her childhood. She was a bus patrol officer while she was in school, keeping her school bus neat and orderly, and lived next to a police officer as she was growing up in Newport News.
As a young black woman, Johnson was the exception, not the norm, on the sheriff’s office roster in 1977. Johnson had worked with juvenile probation in Newport News before getting a job in Williamsburg.
“I was a woman. I was a black woman, and I played different roles,” Johnson said. “But I did learn everything there was to learn.”
Johnson also raised her son as a single mother. He is now 37 years old and a fire safety educator in Hampton.
“I had to work and do so much to take care of my son,” she said. “I worked midnights and some friends took care of my son while I worked, and I took care of their children when I was off.”
Johnson has saved dozens of drawings and letters from inmates given to her over the last 40 years.
She has also gotten to know multiple generations of local families, many of which have thanked her for being attentive and encouraging.
“I just do what comes naturally to me. I want to treat people like I want to be treated. I treat them like human beings.”
Aside from inmates, Johnson has also influenced her fellow deputies.
Tracey Leftwich, another deputy with the Williamsburg-James City County Sheriff’s Office, says she looks to Johnson as a mentor.
“She’s always been there for me,” Leftwich said. “In a way, she’s almost like a mom.”
For Johnson, the respect is mutual.
“I admire her, I really do,” Johnson said, of Leftwich. “I told her ‘Don’t look at anyone discouraging you, you just do what you believe is right.’”
Many who worked with Johnson say they have developed a deep respect for her – both personally and professionally.
For General District Court Judge Colleen Killilea, Johnson was tough when needed, but had a smiling face, a sunny personality and the ability to connect with and speak to people from all walks of life. Johnson served as her primary courtroom bailiff from 2011 until her retirement.
“Bev is one of the most thoughtful people that I have ever known,” Killilea said. “She would regularly give me small gifts for each season – which is the reason that I have a collection of bobbleheads. She would bring in Emily’s Donuts or some other treat for not only me, but the clerk’s office as well. She’d give me surprise balloons or some other thoughtful gift or card for my birthday, when I’d been out sick for a while, or on the passing of family members.”
Under Sheriff Bob Deeds, Johnson was known for her “dedication to the job and punctual, full-time attendance,” Deeds said.
And in the general district court, the busiest court at the courthouse, Deeds said Johnson “excelled.” Johnson has also received numerous accolades in her 40 years of service.
“Bev will be missed greatly on her retirement and will be difficult to replace, both as a bailiff and as an individual,” Killilea said.
“It has been an honor to work with Bev and it is an honor to call her my friend.”
Desire to keep doing good
In 40 years, Johnson has also seen many changes – from the relocation of the courthouse to Monticello Avenue, to new roles and rules at the courthouse – but she is ready for another change.
Johnson plans to volunteer at local hospitals or find another volunteer job helping people.
“I’m a little nervous about retiring,” she said. “But I’ll find something to do. Too much idle time is not for me.”