Derek B. Johnson, 32; helped
children's dreams come true
In the dreamy land of
California, Derek B. Johnson once helped an ailing boy meet Shaquille O'Neal
and a sick girl visit Disney World, in addition to a cruise on Disney's big
A small-town New Jersey boy,
Derek divided his time between two coasts, and came to Rhode Island to work
for an Internet-security company with a Fortune 500 client list.
But before he moved to West
Warwick last year, he helped children with life-threatening diseases live out
"He was a shining star," said
Michelle Wells of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Orange County, in Tustin,
In less than two years, the
32-year-old volunteer helped the charity grant eight wishes to children -- a
significant number, Wells said. Despite the emotional toll of working with
children stricken by terrible illnesses, Derek was a tireless worker who got
"down on his hands and knees to talk to children," Wells said.
He also sold tickets to the
fire department's annual pancake breakfast.
"Derek wanted to help, to give
and to serve," Wells said. "Derek was a man of tremendous character."
"He was born that way," says
his mother, Patricia, in Anaheim, Calif. "He was the most loving person. He
took everything in stride."
Derek's generosity may have
been shaped by an early life in Harmony, N.J., a small town near the
Pennsylvania border. His father, Robert, was an electronics repairman who
eventually opened a shop in Easton.
Derek graduated from Trebas
Recording Institute in Hollywood. A movie buff, skydiver and singer, he
attended North Hampton Community College in Bethlehem, Pa.
Both Derek and a brother Robert
Jr. took jobs with Zoneoftrust, a California Internet-security company.
When the Waltham, Mass.-based
Guardent Inc. bought Zoneoftrust, Robert Jr. stayed in California and Derek
moved to West Warwick to work in Guardent's Providence office as a
When Great White appeared at
The Station last week, Derek and four other Guardent employees went to the
Two survived the fire. Derek,
Scott Griffith and Ryan Morin did not.
Yesterday, the company held a
memorial service for the victims and their families at the Providence
"We're a very close-knit
organization," said Jennifer Haas, a spokeswoman for the 140-person company.
"It was like losing family members."
Derek, she said, "was one of
those managers you rarely come across. He put his team first. And he always
had a smile on his face."
Robert Jr., who attended
yesterday's memorial, agreed.
"He was everybody's best
friend. He was my best friend."
Besides his mother, his father
in Easton, Pa., and his brother in Canyon Lake, Calif., Derek leaves a second
brother, Duane V. Johnson, in Tempe, Ariz.
-- Paul Davis
source Providence Journal