Johnny Homer Pickens started working to help support his family when just a child in Winston Salem, N.C., running errands, delivering newspapers and helping out in his father's carpentry business.
His mother died when he was 9, and the family needed all the help it could get. Hard work was a tradition he continued all his life, frequently holding down two fulltime jobs while working side jobs that he called "hustles."
Johnny Pickens, whose main occupations included railroad worker and postal employee, an Army veteran of World War II and devoted family man, died Sunday. He was 83 and lived in Fern Rock.
He was born in Winston Salem to Oscar and Lula Logan Pickens. His formal education was limited and he joined the Army at the age of 16. He saw service in France, Germany and England before being discharged as a corporal in 1945.
After his Army service, he moved to Philadelphia, where he met and married the late Doris Wilson. They had nine children.
Johnny was skilled in carpentry, plumbing, roofing and all manner of home repairs. He worked for several years for the old Pennsylvania Railroad and retired in 1985 after 26 years at the main post office.
After retiring, he was able to spend more time with his grandchildren. "Pop-Pop" could always be counted on to attend recitals, graduations and any other events in which they might be involved.
Johnny was a consummate cook in the Southern tradition. His specialty was hog-head cheese and sousemeat (meat from the head, feet or heart of a calf or pig).
He was a snappy dresser and loved to dance. He and his wife enjoyed traveling to Atlantic City, and he liked to spend time in his garden.
"He never doubted himself and what he could achieve with his limited formal education," his family said. "He was never a fake or phony. If he was your friend you knew you had a friend for life."
He is survived by six sons, Kenneth, John, Wayne, James, Broderick and David; two daughters, Gwenda Pickens Saylor and Carolyn Pickens Andrews; and 16 grandchildren. He was predeceased by a son, Terrence, and a grandchild, Eric Pickens.