Charles David Johnson didn’t have the easiest childhood growing up in North Philadelphia.

He didn’t have contact with his father, and his mother died when he was 14.

He took his mother’s death very hard, his daughter said. He dropped out of Simon Gratz High School in the ninth grade, held a few odd jobs, and hung out with the wrong crowd.

After marrying at 25, he turned his life around and found steady work in the warehouse at New Yorker American Cheese Co. in South Philadelphia.

His marriage ended in divorce, but he was a good father who took care of his two children as a single dad, said daughter Desiree.

Mr. Johnson, 79, died Saturday, April 4, at Germantown Home from COVID-19.

Mr. Johnson joined Vine Memorial Baptist Church in West Philadelphia as a teenager but later loved visiting churches around the city.
Courtesy Charles Johnson Family
Mr. Johnson joined Vine Memorial Baptist Church in West Philadelphia as a teenager but later loved visiting churches around the city.

Mr. Johnson was born in Philadelphia in 1940 to Rose Johnson. After her death, he lived with his grandmother Lucy Johnson.

By the time he was 39, while still employed at the cheese company, Mr. Johnson began buying rental properties in North and Northwest Philadelphia. It was a hobby that turned into a business.

“He was self-taught and learned by trial and error,” Desiree said.

On weekends, his children, starting at about ages 11 and 9, helped out by mowing lawns and painting.

It taught them the value of hard work, his daughter said.

“He was a good provider, and he wanted his kids to do better than he did,” Desiree said.

Mr. Johnson was an unusual landlord, however. He not only charged below-market rents, he encouraged tenants to buy the houses from him and become homeowners themselves.

He joined Vine Memorial Baptist Church in West Philadelphia as a teenager. But as an adult, he loved visiting churches around the city.

“He was an avid churchgoer. We went to church every week,” Desiree said.

Mr. Johnson spends time with his grandson, James.
Courtesy Charles Johnson Family
Mr. Johnson spends time with his grandson, James.

Mr. Johnson enjoyed trips to New York City to visit friends and soul food restaurants such as Sylvia’s. And he liked to take his children to street festivals in New York and Philadelphia.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Johnson is survived by son Charles, a grandson, a sister, and other relatives and friends.

A private burial was Saturday, April 25.

— Valerie Russ, vruss@inquirer.com