After more than 33 years with the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS), Field Operations Division Director Larry Johnson is calling it quits. Back in 1979, Johnson says he began his career as a social work assistant, making $735 a month.
“I remember telling the Custer County administrator, Carl Henry, that I thought civil service was in my blood,” Johnson recalls. “My father worked for the federal prison system for 30 years, one of my brothers ran a drug abuse intervention program, and another brother worked for social security. Those are about the only qualifications I brought to the table, other than a degree in psychology from SWOSU.”
In those early days, Johnson shared a phone with another employee, always worked ahead and kept things caught up—and even had time most days to do a crossword puzzle at the end of the day. But one of his first home visits to a client was an eye-opening experience.
“It was my first experience with ‘live wallpaper,’” Johnson says. “I had no clue people lived in such squalor or that cockroaches were so numerous and courageous. I soon learned to be careful where I sat; I looked around well before I got out of my car, and found people are not always completely honest with you. One would think my naivety and idealist attitude would have quickly dwindled, but I still find myself all these years later having compassion for people and wanting to trust, rather than be cynical.”
A few years later in 1991, Johnson was named County Director for Kingfisher County and later Assistant Area Director for Area One, Program Administrator for Field Operations Division (FOD), and finally FOD Division Director.
“Through all those positions, I found the one single thing that makes all the difference is relationships,” Johnson said. “Tending to the balance between compassion for the person and accountability for the work has never been easy, and there are a hundred things that get thrown in the middle of it all that just makes it harder.”
Relationships with his co-workers are one thing Johnson says he will miss, and some of the folks he worked closely with share the same sentiments.
“Larry exemplifies the kind of thoughtful leadership that tries to consider all facets of a decision,” said Jim Struby, Director of OKDHS Adult and Family Services. “His years of experience represent the kind of knowledge that is an incalculable loss to an organization. But Larry will be most missed for who he is as a person, genuinely interested in and always willing to help others.”
“I have never known a more kind and caring person than Larry Johnson,” said AFS Deputy Director Shawn Franks. “His passion to the mission of this agency as well as his staff is unmatched, and I will miss working with him.”
Johnson’s final day at work was November 16.
“I have been blessed to have great people to work with,” he said. “People who truly care about the work and the people we serve. I used to say to people that I loved my job. The past five years of judicial, public and legislative scrutiny have taught me that it’s not my job that I have loved; it’s the people I work with. Thank you to all my co-workers for being a blessing on my life.”