Remembering Byron

“He didn’t want a memorial. He wanted a party.”



The Jan. 6 wake celebrating the life and times of Byron Johnson was just about perfect. And with good reason: Johnson himself previously held three practice wakes. Hundreds of his friends and extended family packed the Barber Park Event Center to honor the Idaho Supreme Court justice, co-founder of ACLU Idaho, poet and outdoorsman who died Dec. 9, 2012.

"I just thought it was important to have that organization in the state of Idaho," Johnson told BW in May 2012, when he reminisced about his lifelong search for justice--literally and figuratively.

In fact, Johnson's memoir Poetic Justice, published in 2012, balanced his courtroom recollections with his favorite pastime: poetry.

"Mingle my ashes with those of the trees, the grasses, bushes, and brush," Johnson wrote once, issuing a heartfelt ruling to his survivors. "Tell those who come later when the lushness returns our ashes midwifed rebirth."

Johnson's poems were interspersed with ongoing toasts during the three-hour wake, which included a who's who of Idaho's legal, literary and political elite, including former Gov. Cecil Andrus who appointed Johnson to the Supreme Court in 1987.

"Byron didn't want a memorial," Bruce Reichert, the wake's master of ceremonies, cautioned the gathering. "He wanted a party."

And indeed, the wake was a high-spirited affair, featuring the Idaho City Kazoo Band, a Dixieland funeral march, and Kevin Kirk (piano) and Tom Tompkins (fiddle) playing the appropriate mix of "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "As Times Goes By."

Equal measures of tears and laughter accompanied generous shots of George Dickel Tennessee Whiskey throughout the afternoon.

"Blend into rock, melt into rain, flow in the river, float to the sky," Johnson wrote in his poem "Part of This Terrain." "Flow in the river, float to the sky, with never a doubt as to who am I."


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