Kim Johnson (1948 – 2020)

Address for Kim’s Funeral

Max Hunt

Ladies and Gentlemen – Friends

Many of you will know that in the mill workshop at Shelsley we Dibnahs have a rather special bench dedicated to the memory of colleagues no longer with us, who helped bring the mill back to life ten years ago. If I had been asked four weeks ago to predict which of us would be next to qualify for a brass plate on the bench, Kim Johnson’s name would have come well down the list. I imagine for all of us here today Kim’s death came as a huge shock; we knew that he had been feeling under the weather, but hadn’t dreamt that he was seriously ill. It was, I suppose, typical of the man that his selfless stoicism led him always to avoid talking about his own health.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to be counted among Kim’s friends. Standing here now, in these very unusual circumstances imposed by virus restrictions, I have to try to speak for the many scores – perhaps hundreds – who would normally have wished to be here to pay their respects.

First there are the Dibnahs themselves. Kim joined the mill project within twelve months of the Society’s inauguration in 2006. To our disparate range of skills – or in my case lack of them! – he brought an engineer’s mind and a quiet determination to find a solution to any technical problem. James Thacker in a written tribute the other day reminded me of Kim’s mantra “what man has made, man can mend or rebuild”. And so it was at the mill, either with design drawings for replacing a 200 year-old wooden spur wheel or tackling the overhaul of fuelling arrangements for a 1930s stationary engine. All of this would be undertaken with tremendous patience; I can’t recall Kim ever losing his temper when something went wrong or we faced an unexpected snag. He would shrug, smile, and probably make another cup of tea! As our Chairman since 2015 he brought quiet direction and purpose to our Tuesdays and always made sure we were properly organised for open events. You should know that, as I speak, those who can’t join us here plan to be at Shelsley to set the mill wheel running as the Dibnahs’ own special mark of respect.

But, of course, Kim’s interest in Shelsley Walsh and hill climbing  dated from long before we began the mill project.  I am very conscious of speaking for a second constituency in the many friends and admirers he had in the world of motor sport. Kim and I both cut our automotive teeth as teenagers in the 60s with Austin Sevens and would happily share tales of later experiences with the XPAG engine in our T series MGs. But I suppose it is really with the highly developed MG Midget that he will be best remembered. In the 1970s and 80s this car, originally built up with Tim King, became one of the quickest Midgets around. First driven competitively in 1973, it took Kim to overall second in the RAC Leaders’ National Hillclimb Championship just three years later and, as James Thacker tells it, reflecting on its 2010 best time,  “there is no other five-port A series engined Midget or Sprite that has ever done a 33 second run at Shelsley”. Whether in the Midget, the mighty RV8 in the nineties, or more recently in the Mallock shared with  Robin Nicholson, Kim was always competitive, smooth and fast. He was on the hill with the Midget as recently as August 29th and  we can only conjecture what would have been in his mind as he powered tidily round the Esses for what would be his last time. Who would have thought that just three weeks later the Mallock would be parked up on the start line, alongside the one-eyed Sprite, as the hill fell silent in Kim’s memory.

Away from Shelsley Walsh, there is a third constituency that I know would normally have been represented here in strength – and that is the Austin Ex-Apprentices Association. Some of you will know that the story of Herbert Austin and Longbridge is a bit of an interest of mine. It was through Kim that I became aware of the background to the remarkable apprenticeship scheme originally set up by Sir Herbert (as he was then) in 1919. Apprenticeship, I think, is a term that has become woefully debased in recent years. What Longbridge offered right through to the days of the British Motor Corporation was a quality alternative to the academic route through higher education that many of us were steered into in the 1960s. Kim would spend 39 years with the evolving company, 99% of which he claimed were “very happy indeed” when he was interviewed for the MG Car Club Midget Register in 2012. His evident early pride in the products of BMC gave way to some frustration during the Leyland years but, accumulating wide management experience, he would eventually become responsible for all Longbridge paint shops.  Then, in the final years of what became MG/Rover, Kim was made Director of MG Sport and Racing – an ideal way you might think to end his long career. In retirement, while developing new interests in motor sport, Kim remained, as we know, a stalwart of the Ex-Apprentices Association serving for many years as their Treasurer.

In each of these constituencies Kim will be sorely missed; but beyond them all he was devoted to his family and immensely proud of Ben, Victoria and his grandchildren.  Routine phone calls taken at the mill would be answered with a polite “Johnson”; but if the call was from Jenny his face would break into a smile as he said “Hello love”. And we all knew how deeply concerned he was two years ago when Jenny was seriously ill with her blood clot. Today our hearts go out to Jen and all the family.

I’m going to conclude by quoting again from that 2012 MG Car Club article. Rounding off his interview piece, Dennis Wharf wrote of Kim:-

“a quiet man, but fiercely competitive, he proves that success doesn’t necessarily have to come with a great trumpeting fanfare, it can equally be achieved quietly and confidently provided you have the ability”. 

Kim, we will all miss you.

MH  29.09.20.

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