Cover photo for Brian Matthew Johnson's Obituary
Brian Matthew Johnson Profile Photo

Brian Matthew Johnson

July 31, 1945 — April 6, 2024


Brian Matthew Johnson

Brian Johnson, 78, passed away at his farm on April 6, 2024, under care of hospice, and surrounded by his family.
Brian was born on July 31, 1945, the first-born son of Haaken and Ione Johnson. He grew up north of Hawley, Minnesota, on the farm that his great-grandfather, Henry Johnson, homesteaded after fighting for the Union in the Civil War, nearly a century before his birth. Brian was put on a tractor when he was 6-years old. Helping his gentle, patient father on the farm, well before all his permanent teeth grew in, instilled in Brian an abiding love of farming and the natural world. Brian always wanted to be a farmer. He never wanted to be anything else.

Brian attended elementary and high school in Hawley. During those years, he helped his father, who had a dairy farm, in addition to crop farming. He would wake up early to milk the cows before school and once again, after school. He was not a morning person and was difficult to rouse, with his mom hollering upstairs to him and his brother to wake up and do their chores. Brian was a restless student, impatient to start his life’s work. After graduating from high school in 1963, Brian continued farming with his father and Uncle Phillip, and had a side gig delivering milk. In the autumn of 1963, Brian was invited to a Sadie Hawkin’s hayride by Eileen Anderson, of Hitterdal, Minnesota. Eileen would later write to him that, “There never lived a happier girl when he accepted her invitation.” They were true, teenage sweethearts and the loves of each other’s life. They married in 1968.

By that time, Brian had saved up enough “milk money” to pay $6,000 in cash for a humble trailer home which was placed across the gravel road from his parents’ house. After giving birth to their son, Matthew Brian in 1969, one relative recounted that Eileen said, “I’m so happy. I have everything I’ve ever wanted!” (After Brian’s death, Matthew would find the cancelled check for the trailer in Brian’s papers, along with love letters, scrapbooks, and photos documenting their love story.) Two years and two months after Matthew arrived, Lori Ann was born.

In 1976, with their family doubled in size, Brian and Eileen built their dream home about ten miles north of Hawley, on a parcel of land Brian farmed. Together, they developed a successful farm operation, with Brian slowly acquiring more land, carefully studying the weather and crop prices, knowing the best time to sell, and when to wait. Eileen also made many contributions to the farm, most notably during harvest, she served the farmworkers hot meals, twice a day, on real dishes with silverware in the field – a sweet custom which has since gone out of fashion.
But a man of such good fortune, would not be untouched by tragedy. In 1985, at the age of 35, Eileen died of lung cancer, three weeks after she was diagnosed. The tragic loss of such a beautiful, brilliant soul left a chasm that could never be filled. Things were never the same.

But Brian had family and many friends to help him heal the heartbreak. He was blessed with several profound and lifelong friendships with other enthusiastic outdoorsmen. Together, they enjoyed many hunting and fishing trips to Canada, the American West, and Southwest, and indulged their wanderlust with scenic motorcycle rides on their prized Harley-Davidsons. 

Brian was mechanically inclined and loved tinkering with his cars and motorcycle in his “shop.” He bought and restored classic cars and vintage tractors, driving them in small-town parades and at the Steam Threshers Reunion in Rollag. Brian was most proud of his bright red, fully restored, 1961 Impala bubble top, which he bought at a Barrett-Jackson Auction in 2015. Tension built as Brian bid against a well-known Nascar driver on live television, so he was surprised and thrilled when he made the winning bid. (Brian had a special interest in the car because he had a nearly identical red, 1961 Impala when he picked up Eileen and drove her to that hayride in the autumn of 1963.)  

Brian had a great third act as a grandparent and found so much joy watching his five grandchildren grow. He made frequent trips to St. Paul and Duluth for birthdays, games, races, and other family events. Brian was probably happiest watching his grandchildren drive snowmobiles and four-wheelers around his farm, and delighted in their fun and occasional mishaps. Later in life, he established a new circle of friends, enjoying cruises and traveling the country to attend Vikings games, car auctions, and other events. 

Although unassuming and humble, Brian was a self-made man who never had a boss. He lived his life with fierce and dogged independence, until the very end. He was a sweet and kindhearted soul, which he demonstrated through his devotion to family, friends, and a series of blonde cocker spaniels, Buster, Buddy, and Bubba, who rarely left his side.

Brian suffered from several progressive diseases, and in the last two years was hospitalized more times than he could count. After his last stint in the hospital, he told his “favorite son-in-law” that he wanted to die at home. So, his children brought him home to the farm. His last day was filled with visits from family and friends, and laughter filled his home. It was a beautiful day. The sun and breeze touched his face, Bubba laid with him at the foot of his bed, and his children held his hands as he took his last breath, on the land he worked and loved.

His family is crushed by his absence. But they find comfort knowing that he’s finally reunited with Eileen, stardust swirling in the heavenly skies.

Brian is survived by his children, Matt and his wife, Patty, and Lori and her husband, Mike. Brian is also survived by their children, his affectionate and well-loved grandchildren, Gaby, and Eli, and Noah, Jonah and Lucy. Finally, Brian is survived by his loving siblings, Eileen and Terry, his devoted mother, Ione, his niece, Lisa Nokelby, who cared for him during several hospitalizations, and whom he referred to as his “guardian angel,” nieces, nephews, many dear cousins, friends, neighbors, and his precious dog, Bubba, who is enjoying his new adventure as a city dog, with Lori and her family in St. Paul.
Brian was preceded in death by his beloved father, Haaken, and the love of his life, Eileen.
A Celebration of Life will be held at Wright Funeral Home in Hawley, Minnesota on Saturday, July 20, 2024, from 2 - 4 p.m. Brian didn’t want a funeral. He wanted a party! So, if you are able, please arrive at the celebration with your classic car, sports car, or motorcycle, and your favorite stories about Brian.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Brian Matthew Johnson, please visit our flower store.

Upcoming Services

Celebration of Life

Saturday, July 20, 2024

2:00 - 4:00 pm (Central time)

Wright Funeral Home and Cremation Service- Hawley and Lake Park

404 Leonard St, Hawley, MN 56549

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