Following 11 years as village trustee and 5 years as a citizen commissioner, Ray Johnson was praised roundly by citizens and officials at his final village board meeting on Tuesday.
Johnson announced his plans to retire from the board last month for a promotion with his company, HSBC Bank, in New York.
Both the village board and the Oak Park Township board presented Johnson with resolutions for his years of service, not only as a village trustee but also for his time served on various commissions.
Trustee Colette Lueck, Johnson’s closest ally on the board, presented him with a number of gifts, representing various accomplishments he achieved during his tenure. Lueck gave him a Frisbee for the creation of Barrie Park, toy buildings for economic development, rainbow flags for the gay pride resolution, and a baby doll for the Collaboration for Early Childhood Development.
“His heart will stay in Oak Park, even though he has a New York state of mind,” she said.
Trustee Peter Barber described Johnson’s work ethic as tireless and his presence in the village at meetings and events as “ubiquitous.”
“You are a huge part of Oak Park, and Oak Park is a huge part of you,” Barber said. “It’s hard to imagine Oak Park without you.”
Trustee Bob Tucker conjured a years-old quote from the openly-gay trustee. “There’s no gay way to fill a pothole,” Tucker recalled the outgoing trustee once saying, adding to the line, “But there is a Ray way to be a trustee.”
Trustee Adam Salzman recalled Johnson’s efforts in bringing the “It Gets Better” campaign to Oak Park, which aims to show LGBT youth that bullying during adolescence does not continue as you become an adult.
“Ray shared his own story on the issue of bullying and the fact that it gets better. I have always felt that in using your own story you showed tremendous honesty and courage,” Salzman said.
Johnson even received praise from his once political foe, President Anan Abu-Taleb, who Johnson actively campaigned against. Abu-Taleb noted that if Johnson had his way, “I would not be sitting here. Ray is very passionate, but if he turns that passion against you, watch out.”
Abu-Taleb added that he has learned a lot from Johnson during his short time in office. Abu-Taleb described Johnson as a leader who asks tough questions, noting that Johnson has had a “positive impact on the community.”
Johnson ended the meeting saying that his time as a trustee and volunteer commissioner has been the joy of his life but added that he’s excited to “move on to a new chapter.”
“I’ll miss being part of the progress,” Johnson said.