Felix Andrew Johnston, Jr.

Felix Andrew Johnston, Jr., (1941-2019) was born to Felix Sr. and Alice Johnston, of Monticello on Jan. 13, 1941.
Felix Sr. opened Johnston's Store, the only grocer in Monticello for many years and a local landmark famous for its country sausage. He and his sibling, Felice, were known around town only as "Brother" and "Sister."
Felix Jr. is survived by his loving wife, Cathy; his three children: Andy Johnston and his wife Lori (St. Augustine), Don Diaz Johnston and his husband Jorge (Miami), and Michelle [Johnston] Rowe and her husband Michael (Tallahassee); and his four grandchildren: Steven, Jacob, Hannah and Riley.
A graduate of FSU, Felix graduated UF law school and joined The Florida Bar in 1966. Starting as an attorney for the Public Service Commission, he then went into private practice in Tallahassee before returning to his hometown of Monticello as a judge.
Originally appointed Jefferson County Judge by Gov. Bob Graham, he was nicknamed "Jail-em Johnston" by some inmates. That was a misnomer. He was proud of his work on state judicial committees pioneering incarceration alternatives. He was also proud of never having been overturned on appeal during his tenure.
Appointed when he was only 42, Felix relished returning to his beloved hometown and having a slower pace of life. But he had to adjust to his new role as county judge. One July day about a year after taking office, then-Monticello News Publisher, Ron Cichon, quipped in his weekly column: "How hot was it last week? So hot even the judge wore shorts to the post office." He never wore shorts again in public until leaving office.
Felix presided over the murder trial of a British tourist in Jefferson in 1993. The case garnered worldwide attention with the entire British press, all national networks, and every major newspaper swarming the town of 14,000. The state's entire tourism industry remained on edge in hopes justice could be found and faith in our system would be upheld.
At one point, Felix slapped a gag order on the press. Deeply concerned about the First Amendment, he also saw how the attention was stirring up racial tensions.
He said at the time: "the world may be watching, but I won't let them tear this town apart." He knew the press would turn its attention to him instead. He happily took the heat so law enforcement could work without the glare of international scrutiny.
Gov. Chiles personally called Felix to thank him for his calming influence over an international powder keg that riled his otherwise sleepy hometown. Justice for the victim was found, but the truth weighed heavy on Felix's heart. It was a case of would-be teen robbers going horribly wrong. "Everyone was a victim that day." As a result of that case, Florida completely reformed its juvenile justice system.
While he was a stickler for the rule of law, he also saw that judges needed to reflect on the people who appeared before him. He knew that his decision was frequently a momentous event in that person's life. And that his role was to remain fair to all citizens regardless of money or status, but to also look into all of the lives that would be affected as well. Fairness meant uniformity in decisions, but it also meant considering the impact of his decisions.
As a small-town judge, he took the opportunity to appear in schools frequently, talking to students from elementary to high school about the law, a just society, and the need to be fully-participating members of your community. He personally mentored many students and also took time to work with scores of men about how to be the best son, husband, and father you can. He knew a vibrant community depended upon everyone rising to his or her potential and contributing what they can. "Love thy neighbor as thyself."
A Celebration of Life gathering will be held from 4 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 8, at the Monticello Opera House, located at 185 W. Washington St.