Charles S. “Chuck” Johnson, one of many state’s longest-serving statehouse journalists and broadly often called the “dean of Montana political reporters,” died unexpectedly at his dwelling in Helena on Saturday. 

Former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, proper, speaks concerning the state Structure and Indian Schooling for all on a panel with former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, left, and reporter Chuck Johnson, center, at Montana State College on March 22, 2022. Credit score: Screenshot courtesy of Montana State College

Johnson reported on Montana politics and authorities for Montana’s largest newspapers and wire companies for 45 years earlier than his retirement in 2017. Through the course of his profession, Johnson coated 22 legislative classes, eight governors, 9 U.S. senators, and 12 U.S. representatives, incomes a fame as a factual and truthful journalist whose reporting was infused with a way of historical past and institutional data that gave readers a broad perspective on probably the most vital problems with the day.

Johnson’s spouse, Pat Hunt, mentioned her husband was beloved all through Montana and his loss shall be felt throughout the state. 

“So many individuals sincerely cherished Chuck, and I so admire all of them and the way a lot they cherished him,” Hunt mentioned Monday. “He was so humbled by it and it meant a lot to him. He cared a lot for everyone, and for the state of Montana. It’s simply such a loss.”

Amongst Johnson’s many passions was the sport of baseball. Johnson and Hunt not too long ago returned from Arizona the place they watched their favourite Main League Baseball staff, the Chicago Cubs, play at spring coaching. 

“He informed me he was so joyful when he walked into the ballpark,” Hunt mentioned. 

Johnson has served on the Montana Free Press board of administrators since 2020, and chaired the board since 2021.

Longtime MTFP board member Drew Gieger mentioned Johnson’s best power was his “underlying humility.”

“Here’s a man who’s a strolling historical past, guide however at all times with a humorousness and an ongoing wonderment of human experiences,” Geiger mentioned.


The Montana Constitution, up close and personal

The Montana Structure, up shut and private

When 100 delegates gathered in 1972 to create a brand new Structure for Montana, reporter Chuck Johnson had a front-row seat to historical past within the making. Right here’s his recollection of that Montana milestone — and what it’s meant for the state within the half-century since — in Chuck’s personal phrases.

MTFP board president Chuck Johnson to receive honorary degree

MTFP board president Chuck Johnson to obtain honorary diploma

MTFP board president Chuck Johnson, recognized by admirers as “the dean of the capitol press corps,” will obtain an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Montana State College Could 13, throughout spring graduation.

Former journalist and MTFP board secretary Skylar Browning mentioned Johnson was invaluable as a board member. 

“He provided the identical historic data, knowledge and steering to MTFP that he had famously shared with readers and fellow journalists for many years because the preeminent political reporter within the state,” Browning mentioned. “It’s an unbelievable loss for all of us.” 

MTFP founder and Government Director John Adams echoed Browning’s feedback. 

“I’m devastated by the information of Chuck’s passing,” Adams mentioned. “He was a beloved good friend to so many individuals all through Montana. His impression on the state is immeasurable. He mentored dozens, if not tons of, of younger reporters all through his a long time as a journalist, and he was at all times humble, gracious, respectful and truthful. Attending to know Chuck extra personally in recent times was one of many nice joys of my life. The treasure state has misplaced one among its best treasures.”

Chuck Johnson, present U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, and former U.S. ambassador to China, Max Baucus, talk about geopolitics in Asia on the Museum of the Rockies on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. Over 100 hundred folks attended the hour-long “hearth chat” that coated democracy, Taiwan and stability within the area. Credit score: John Stember / MTFP

Johnson was born in 1948 in Nice Falls, and was the oldest of 4 siblings. Johnson’s household moved to Helena when he was a 12 months and a half outdated. He began his journalism profession early, working for the Helena Excessive Faculty scholar newspaper, The Nugget. 

Johnson later attended school on the College of Montana in Missoula, the place he studied journalism. 

As a younger reporter nonetheless attending UM, Johnson’s first massive story was overlaying the 1972 Montana Constitutional Conference for the Related Press. His day by day dispatches to the AP are among the many most complete day-to-day accounts of that historic occasion, affectionately nicknamed the “Con Con.” 

In 2022 Johnson participated in a Fiftieth-anniversary celebration of the Con Con. As a part of the commemoration, Johnson took half in an oral historical past undertaking during which he mirrored on his time overlaying the conference.

“It was enjoyable to do and it was enjoyable to witness reform occurring,” Johnson mentioned within the September 2021 interview. “To me, it was type of eradicating the shackles that had been on Montana.”

Montana creator, columnist and historical past buff Sarah Vowell spearheaded an oral historical past undertaking in 2021, sponsored by MSU and Montana Free Press, to have a good time the Con Con’s Fiftieth anniversary. As a part of that undertaking, Johnson loaned containers of his private historic archives to Vowell. 

In a letter to MSU nominating Johnson for an honorary doctorate, Vowell wrote:

“Chuck’s containers of notes, publications, handouts, ground speeches, citizen testimony, different reporters’ protection, delegate marketing campaign brochures, pre-convention analysis and innumerable different scraps of paper, alongside along with his tireless enter, recommendation, gossip and enthusiasm concerning the conference, have been a useful useful resource to me and my colleagues at Montana Free Press as we researched and ready our interviews of surviving delegates and employees.” 

Reached for remark Monday, Vowell mentioned working with Johnson on the Con Con undertaking was amongst her most cherished private reminiscences. 

“My guess is that the Montana Historic Society is about to get an uptick in calls and guests asking persnickety questions on Montana historical past and politics as a result of we will now now not simply ask Chuck,” Vowell mentioned. “I used to be simply re-reading an electronic mail he despatched me in September in response to a query about labor endorsements in Montana elections and he replied with a rousing chronicle of fifty years of governors, sawmills, strikes and pipefitters — all jotted down off the highest of that deep outdated head of his.” 

MTFP Board Chair Chuck Johnson, a lifelong baseball fan, not too long ago returned from a visit to Arizona the place he took in spring coaching video games along with his spouse, Pat Hunt. Credit score: Courtesy Pat Hunt

In Could 2022 Johnson obtained  an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Montana State College. In a video honoring Johnson in the course of the graduation ceremony, journalist and creator Kathleen McLaughlin, who labored with Johnson early in her profession, mentioned Johnson had a knack for contextualizing information. 

“He was at all times conscious of political historical past in Montana, I imply, right down to the minute degree of issues,” McLaughlin mentioned within the video. “He would know little tidbits that you just by no means heard of, however he would know put them into tales to make the reporting stronger and clarify to folks why issues mattered.” 

Politicians throughout the state reacted Monday to the information of Johnson’s passing. 

Sen. Jon Tester, who honored Johnson on the ground of the U.S. Senate in 2015 upon Johnson’s retirement, mentioned an emailed assertion that Chuck was “a reporter’s reporter — at all times ready, and at all times talking fact to energy.” 

“As a journalist, his integrity, dedication to fact, and willingness to carry folks accountable earned him the respect of readers and elected officers alike, from either side of the aisle,” Tester, a Democrat, mentioned. “Chuck was a fantastic reporter and even higher man — and after holding Montanans knowledgeable for many years, he shall be sorely missed by household, associates, and numerous others within the Treasure State. Sharla and my ideas are along with his household.”

Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican who turned Johnson’s neighbor after being elected and transferring to Helena in 2020, mentioned he and first girl Susan Gianforte are “deeply saddened” on the information of the passing of their “good friend and a large in political journalism.”

“From the numerous reporters whom he mentored generously to the state he cherished so dearly, Montana has misplaced a legend,” Gianforte mentioned in a press release. “For over 4 a long time, Chuck served the folks of Montana as a good, sincere, affable, tenacious journalist with a deep ardour for his craft. Susan and I mourn the lack of Chuck and pray for Pat and their family members.”

Western Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke, a Republican, additionally launched a press release during which he mentioned “Montana misplaced a trusted and revered voice.”

“There isn’t any doubt Chuck is among the greats,” Zinke mentioned. “I at all times knew him to be complete, truthful and knowledgeable. He wielded his energy of the pen to uphold the Founders’ imaginative and prescient of the Fourth Property, and he has my deepest respect. Relaxation in peace, Chuck. You may be missed.”

This story was replace March 6, 2023, to incorporate post-publication remark and response from creator Sarah Vowell, Sen. Jon Tester, Gov. Greg Gianforte, and U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke.

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