BELFAST – William Johnson always dreamed of becoming a conductor of a symphony orchestra.

His sons’ early memories of their father was of him sitting in the living room, listening to classical music through large speakers.

“And his baton whaling away,” as he pretended he was conducting the orchestra, his son Eric Johnson said.

While Mr. Johnson never pursued a career as an orchestra conductor, his passion for music never diminished. It lives on with his sons and grandsons, who have either pursued music professionally or as a hobby.

Mr. Johnson died Tuesday. He was 76.

As a 1951 graduate of Deering High School in Portland, he decided to attend Rutgers University in New Jersey for journalism. While at the university, Mr. Johnson was a member of the choir, which is how he met his wife of 52 years, Linnea.

“We met after rehearsal there,” his wife said. “We have always said our song was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. That was our theme song.”

After working in the newsroom at the Courier News in Plainfield, N.J., Mr. Johnson became editor-in-chief of two U.S. Air Force base newspapers. He later served various public relations roles for Bell Labs and AT&T.

For two years in the 1960s, the family was stationed in the South Pacific on Kwajalein, Marshall Islands.

With his parents still living in Portland, Mr. Johnson discovered phone conversations with them were often complicated to complete and always very expensive.

“He came up with the idea of recording tapes,” his son Chris Johnson said.

Instead of writing long letters, Mr. Johnson, his wife and two sons would record lengthy tapes about what they were doing in school, for fun, and how his job was going. They even recorded some music on the organ they had, Chris Johnson said. They would send the tapes back to Maine and wait for the exchange tapes from Mr. Johnson’s parents.

“We still have those tapes,” Chris Johnson said. “It’s a very cool thing to have.”

“We were basically stuck out there, but we made the most of it,” Eric Johnson said.

With the exception of their time in the South Pacific, Mr. Johnson and his wife raised their sons in New Jersey. The family would visit Maine regularly for two-week vacations to catch up with relatives. His sons remember the cabin they rented on Pine Point in Scarborough and the family gatherings they had, which usually included a lobster bake.

It wasn’t until 1989 that Mr. Johnson and his wife returned to live in Maine. His wife said he took early retirement from AT&T and they purchased a business, North Country Press. They ran the small regional company, which printed works by northern New England authors, for eight years.

In the past decade, Mr. Johnson’s health declined, but his wife and children said he never let it get the best of him.

“He could overcome what was wrong with him and just turn on the wit and charm for the doctors and nurses, whoever he wanted to make feel at ease with him,” his wife said.

Chris Johnson said his father “fought bravely” during the past few years.

“He never let us know he was afraid or in pain,” his son said. “I was incredibly proud of him (for that).”

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]