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Catherine Best Johnson, 98, family matriarch

She worked in the garment industry and as a school cook

Catherine Johnson
Catherine JohnsonRead more

W HEN CATHERINE BEST was growing up in the Philadelphia of the 1920s, she could have had her pick of suitors.

"As she grew in grace and charm, she attracted many," her family said. But she settled on a young postal worker named Amos Johnson, from Havre de Grace, Md. They were married in 1936 and enjoyed 44 years of wedded bliss until his death in 1980.

Catherine Johnson, as she became after her marriage, died Dec. 10 at the age of 98. She lived in West Oak Lane.

The 1930s were probably not the best time to start a family in Philadelphia. The Depression was raging despite the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, who promised to do something about it.

Nevertheless, Catherine became a hard-working presser in the garment industry for 30 years, respected for her work ethic and devotion to duty.

She retired in 1982, but her working life was not over. She joined the Cheltenham School District and worked in food service at the high school for several years. She was able to put her skills as a cook to work to entice the suburban kids with a bit of Southern cuisine.

Hard work and church were Catherine's watchwords. And also travel, although her travels throughout the U.S. were a side benefit of her membership in James Cleveland's Philadelphia Mass Choir.

She traveled widely with the choir, as well as with family and friends.

"Catherine loved her family and friends and they loved her," her family said. The faith that guided her life, that was instilled in her by her parents, she passed on to her children.

Catherine was born in Wilmington, N.C., to the Rev. Herbert Best and the former Louise Collins. She attended school in Love Grove, N.C., before her family moved north to Philadelphia.

When the family arrived in Philadelphia, they joined Cornerstone Baptist Church. Catherine grew up there, but when she got older, she joined Bright Hope Baptist Church and later Upper Room Baptist. She served as an usher at both churches.

She also served as an usher for the Gospel Music Workshop of America at 2045 Medary Ave., founded by James Cleveland, the late gospel singer and composer.

Her favorite hymn was I Won't Complain:

Sometimes the clouds hang low.

I can hardly see the road,

And then I ask the question,

Lord why so much pain?

But he knows what's best for me

Although my weary eyes can't see.

In later years, Catherine became the senior mother of Restoration New Life Ministries, a Pentecostal church of which her granddaughter, the Rev. Dr. Robin R. Whaley, is senior pastor.

Catherine is survived by two daughters, Louise Pugh and Doris Johnson; a sister, Earline B. McCullough; 13 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren, and 34 great-great-grandchildren.

Services: 10 a.m. tomorrow at True Light Fellowship Church, 6400 Ardleigh St. Friends may call at 8 a.m.