You don't have to be with Kenneth Johnson long before you realize here is a man who loves life.
He exudes happiness and a positive attitude. His enthusiasm is infectious.
Sustained to the Second Quorum of the Seventy on March 31, Elder Johnson, 49, who joined the Church nearly 31 years ago in his native Norwich, England, attributes the happiness he feels to keeping the commandments - a principle taught in one of his favorite scriptures:"And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it." (Mosiah 2:41.)
"As a stake president I would often use that scripture," said Elder Johnson. "It came to me on one occasion early on, and it just kept coming back and coming back. What it says is true, happiness does come from keeping the commandments."
And the happiness that Elder Johnson radiates is noticed in and out of the Church in his hometown of some 125,000 persons in Norfolk County, where he has lived his entire life except for a few months.
Many times Elder Johnson, who was in the insurance brokerage business at the time of the call to the Seventy, is asked the question, "What makes you so happy?" He says he "has quite a reputation around the city as the guy who's always happy and positive."
Being a member of the Church has "really given me a vision of life and potential," said Elder Johnson. "The gospel changed me. It turned me on to my capabilities."
Elder Johnson was baptized at age 19, through the influence of a young lady, Pamela Wilson, who later became his wife. He met her at a dancing school and she told him that she was a Mormon. "I didn't know what that was," he recalled.
"I tried to get a date with her and she'd say, `Well, Tuesday is MIA, Wednesday is Relief Society, and Thursday is Primary. I could see you Sunday.'
"So I saw her one Sunday afternoon and we walked for awhile, and we stopped outside of a small Church building and she said,
Would you like to meet my parents?' I said,That sounds good, where are they?'
In there,' she replied. I saidNo church. That's just not my scene.' She replied, `No church, you'll just meet my mum and dad.' "
After he met her parents, he attended a baptismal service with them. "I don't remember what was said in that meeting, but I felt that what they were saying was what I believed," said the future General Authority. "I felt very comfortable with what was said."
At the time, Pamela was a district missionary. The district missionaries, Elder Johnson remembered, were meeting with the full-time missionaries who would teach them the discussions. "So for a date, I would go along with her to these meetings, then walk her home afterward.
"I had been going for two or three weeks when one of the missionaries said to me that it would be a lot easier if they had somebody to practice [the discussions] with, and asked if I would be agreeable to let them practice on me."
The young man agreed. "What was really happening was that they were teaching me the gospel," he remembered. "I was really getting a feel of the gospel." Within four months of first hearing about the Church, he was baptized on Aug. 16, 1959, by Pamela's father, Tom Wilson.
Two-and-a-half years later on March 24, 1962, Kenneth and Pamela were married.
"If I am anything, it's because of my wife," Elder Johnson said. "She has motivated me to do a lot of things because of her influence. She expects the best of me. When I give a talk, for example, if Pam says nothing, it was OK. If it wasn't good, she'll tell me. If she says it was good, it was good! It's great to have that kind of critic."
Four years after Ken and Pam's marriage their son, Kevin, was born with serious complications. "He's not going to live," the doctors told the parents. Elder Johnson remembered, "I kneeled down and prayed to the Lord and promised Him that if Kevin's life would be preserved, I would devote my life to His work."
Through surgery and priesthood blessings, Kevin recovered and has since served a mission and worked with his father in the insurance business.
"These extra experiences give you a deeper insight into Heavenly Father and His dealings," reflected Sister Johnson.
Prior to being baptized, young Ken performed with a band, where he sang and played the electric guitar, while he was attending Norwich City College, learning the printing trade. (Elder Johnson left the printing trade 26 years ago and began an insurance brokerage with a partner.)
After a band performance, he remembered, some talent agents from London offered to represent him as a musician, saying, "we'll take you." He consulted with his father about the offer. His dad said, "Look son, you've nearly finished your apprenticeship. Get your trade first, and then if you really feel you need to go, then go."
"I went back to the agents," said Elder Johnson, "and told them I wasn't going to do it. When I look at what happened, it seems the Lord always had somebody there to keep me from those kinds of moments. Imagine," he exclaimed, "how my life could have gone had I accepted that offer."
Elder Johnson said his father, who was not a member of the Church but was investigating it when he died in 1977, had "a terrific influence" on him. "He was a very, very wise man in the way he dealt with us. I didn't know him until I was 5," reflected Elder Johnson. "He was in the military during World War II in Italy. I remember my mother getting a telegram and my brother running behind her exclaiming, `Dad's coming home!' I didn't know who this dad was, but I began to shout too."
When his father returned from the war, he brought with him an Italian leather football. "I guess that is where my love of soccer came from," exclaimed Elder Johnson.
He played quite a bit of soccer, but the games were played on Sunday. "When I was baptized I gave up playing soccer on Sunday and performing in the band," Elder Johnson related. "You can't believe how big a sacrifice that was for me. It was a big test, but I quit because I felt it wasn't the right thing to do in the Church."
While he still enjoys these activities, they took on a different perspective after he was baptized. Prior to his call as a General Authority, he played in a family band, performing at stake dances. "As stake president I became concerned about stake dances and getting the bands that I felt happy with. So we started a family band to play at the dances."
He also played five-to-a-side football (soccer) in a stake league. "I play any position," said the 5-foot 8-inch Elder Johnson, "but I'm better at what we call midfield. But sometimes they put me in at goal."
In addition to his wife, his father and his father-in-law, another person who had a positive influence on Elder Johnson in his formative years in the gospel was a Church building-missionary supervisor, Walt Stewart, who came to Norwich to supervise the construction of a meetinghouse.
"He could do anything," remembered Elder Johnson, "and he awakened in me the fact that if I wanted to do something I could do it, that there was nothing to restrict me. That was a turning point in my life."
Before his call as a member of the Seventy, Elder Johnson had served for three years as a regional representative and nine years as a stake president. He also has been a counselor in stake and district presidencies, counselor in a bishopric and district Young Men's president.
After he was released as stake president in 1986 he was called to be Gospel Doctrine teacher in his ward. "I love teaching and I love working closely with people," he commented.
He said he often told his Sunday School class, " `What I'm going to teach you today has taken 30 years to prepare.' All the time my mind is looking at the lessons of life that relate to the gospel. We've got to make the gospel exciting and understandable."
"He studies so much," commented Sister Johnson, "but he loves it. When he's preparing and reading, I think, `Well, surely, he has enough material.' But he does it because he is so enthusiastic about the gospel."
Elder Johnson said he studies the scriptures daily, but "there's no set pattern of how much I read each day. Sometimes I'll select a verse and take it through the day. You can discover so much in a single verse. Another time I might read several chapters in a day."
Coupled with the happiness that comes from keeping the commandments, Elder Johnson said he has developed "a totally positive attitude."
"It's not really a confidence in myself," he explained, "but a confidence in the Lord, that He really does bless you with what you need. I have the confidence that things are going to work out. Often I don't see how they will, and it usually takes a lot of work and total faith, but things seem to have a way of working out."
"He has such a zest for life," said Sister Johnson of her husband. "It may sound strange, but I felt that he would help the Lord in a very substantial way."
Elder Kenneth Johnson
- Family: born July 5, 1940, a son of Bertie and Ada Johnson; married Pamela Wilson, March 24, 1962; one child, Kevin.
- Education: graduate of Norwich City College; graduate study, London Institute of Printing.
- Employment: partner in insurance brokerage; former printer.
- Previous Church service: regional representative, stake president, counselor in stake and district presidencies, counselor in bishopric, district Young Men's president.