Chancellor Richard Johnson wanted to be a lawyer since high school.
“I had two ninth-grade teachers who encouraged me to become a lawyer,” he said recently as he recalled his more than 44 years in law.
Now, after all those years, Johnson, judge of the Chancery and Probate courts for the First Judicial District of Tennessee, will retire June 30.
Johnson has served Carter, Unicoi, Johnson and Washington counties since 1988. He was appointed by then-Gov. Ned McWherter to fill the remaining two years of former Chancellor Leon Jordan’s term.
Johnson was re-elected in 1990, 1998 and 2006. As chancellor, Johnson served as presiding judge of the district.
He got involved in debate in high school and won a state championship for debating in 1962.
He graduated from ETSU with a degree in economics. In 1969, he graduated from the Tennessee Judicial Academy and studied law at the National Judicial Academy. He returned here and began practicing law with a local firm, where he stayed for more than 19 years before being appointed chancellor.
“It was a dream come true,” Johnson said of the chancellorship. “I’ve wanted to be a judge and this just kind of fell out of the sky.”
He said he has looked forward to going to work each day for the past 44 years and six months.
“Every day, even my bad days, have been good days,” he said.
He said the biggest changes since he began practicing law involve the switch from paper to digital resources.
He said the law office he went to work for in 1969 was modern for that time because it had a four-foot-by-five-foot copier, a memory typewriter and an intercom system in the building.
Books are becoming a thing of the past in law offices, too, Johnson noted.
“And nowadays, of course, everything is on the web,” he said, including research.
Security, too, is markedly different.
Johnson said 40 years ago one bailiff was the security in the courthouse.
Now, there are metal detectors, multiple trained bailiffs and cameras everywhere.
His retirement will be busy, he said.
“I have been hiking the Appalachian Trail ... for the last 40 years,” he said, adding he plans to continue doing that.
He target shoots, fishes for trout and enjoys working in his yard. Johnson also has some projects at First Christian Church in Johnson City to complete.
He also plans to spend time with his children and grandchildren.