Annette Johnson, 86: In diner or among family, she made life more fun

Aug 15, 2017
Annette Johnson is in the middle in this photo taken in Roy’s Drive-In, and her husband Roy is the dark-haired man behind the counter in the foreground.

Annette Johnson and her husband were true life partners.

Married 63 years, they raised two daughters and spent a quarter-century working side by side in a restaurant they opened in south DeKalb County in the late 1940s.

Roy Johnson was the cook. She was the personality.

“Mom was always the smiling face at the front of the restaurant,” daughter Sandra Johnson Bevins said.

Annette Alexander Johnson, 86, of McDonough, avid bridge player, traveler, family matriarch and co-owner and operator of Roy’s Drive In restaurant of Decatur, died Sunday.

Funeral services will be at 1 p.m. Thursday at Scot Ward’s Green Meadow Chapel with Alec Ward officiating.

Johnson and her husband, the late Roy A. Johnson, owned and operated the popular meat-and-three-vegetables style diner from shortly after they married until they sold it in the early 1970s.

The restaurant served breakfast and lunch. Opening early, usually by 6 a.m., its regulars included milkmen, police officers and a cadre of other early risers, daughter Sandra said.

Marc Buttrill, a friend since childhood, said Annette Johnson just had “one of those personalities. She liked everybody, and everybody liked her.”

Daughter Lynda Davidson believes Johnson took after her father, the late Herbert Alexander. “He was Mr. Personality and always had the wit of a comedian,” she said.

Annette Johnson was a charter member of Alexander Memorial Church and a longtime member of Salem Presbyterian and Ousley Methodist churches. She was skilled at bridge and taught others how to play at the Henry County Senior Center.

She loved traveling to places such as Rosemary Beach, Fla., and to a cousin’s home in Costa Rica and to Colorado, where daughter Lynda lived for years. But roughing it wasn’t her style.

Daughter Lynda remembers her mom being a “real trooper,” going along on a fishing trip in Colorado with her and her dad.

Annette Johnson took a book and spent most of the time reading in the comfort of the cabin. But one morning after husband Roy and daughter Lynda had prepared her a breakfast of freshly caught fish, she paused, looked at the fish and the two of them.

“She said: ‘This sure was a good book, but looking at you guys is much more entertaining’,” Lynda recalled.

“Mom was absolutely a ball of fire,” Lynda Davidson said. “No matter what you did, she made it even more fun.”

Charmon Talley said her grandmother was “the quintessential Steel Magnolia, born and raised in Decatur with a very rich history.”

The families of both Annette and Roy Johnson had large land holdings in the area of DeKalb County near South DeKalb Mall, Talley said.

“She always had a story to tell about everybody and everything,” she said. “She’d grown up in DeKalb County and watched it change.”

Buttrill met Johnson when she was about 6. He and his family were regular visitors to her father’s grocery store at Candler and Glenwood roads. Johnson’s family home was next door. When Buttrill was about 8, he and his brother, Samuel, stayed with Johnson’s family for several days. Fire had damaged the boys’ family home, and it took a few days for their parents to find a place they could stay while their home was being rebuilt, he said.

South DeKalb County had no motels at the time, and no fire department, Buttrill said. Neighbors had put the fire out.

Both Buttrill’s family and Johnson’s family helped to build the local elementary school and Alexander Memorial Presbyterian Church. Years after the church closed, Annette Johnson was still coordinating monthly meetings of some of the old church members, Buttrill said.

She took her role as family matriarch seriously and coordinated annual reunions of 75 to 130 members of the Meers family, her mother’s side of what was a prominent group of landowners in south DeKalb.

Johnson was not one to sit home. “She would rather be in a car or on a plane going somewhere,” Sandra said.

She is survived by her daughters Sandra Johnson Bevins and Lynda Davidson; son-in-law Richard Davidson; grandchildren, Wayne and Joan Wilson, Charmon and Dan Talley, Christel and Trevor Thomas; six great-grandchildren and three great great-grandchildren; and sister Betty Holtsinger.

Family will receive friends from noon until 1 p.m. Thursday before the service at the funeral home. Private graveside Services will be held.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Cornerstone Recovery