o be editor-in-chief of the church’s flagship magazines is an enormously difficult and sensitive responsibility. The “political” pressures are huge. A statement in the magazine considered by one segment of the church as mild and eminently proper could spark fireworks in another segment, with calls for the particular editor’s dismissal from the paper, if not from church employment altogether.
Those were moments when I’ve admired Bill the most—his calmness, the ability to take things in stride. Staff were never made to feel wretched or guilty. On the contrary, I’ve often seen him step forward and take the heat—sometimes for us, other times with us. As when a strong letter would arrive (with a dozen copies to “higher ups”) charging heresy; or when some folks thought we were mixed up on Ellen G. White and Adolf Hitler; or when certain people disagreed with an article we’d published on trade unions.
No, he didn’t ignore complaints from readers, but the balance he exhibited created a relaxed atmosphere in which staff could function. Always encouraged to act responsibly and exercise the utmost care, we all knew, however, that the world wasn’t necessarily coming to an end just because of a few irate saints.
Bill is at home in the Scriptures, with an easy, nondogmatic handling of the text. He is a man of prayer. For him, Jesus is a personal friend. Kindness and generosity are his middle names. “We’re here to build up people,” he often says; and he means it. We all call him Bill. But none of us ever forgets who is in charge. We love him; and he has our deepest respect.
Roy Adams, associate editor, 1988–present
The Better Way
As administrative secretary on the Adventist Review
staff when Elder Kenneth Wood retired in 1982, I wondered whether Dr. Johnsson would invite me to stay on in that position. Happily, he called me in and asked me to remain as his administrative secretary. From day one we worked together as a team because we put the church paper first under the guidance of the Lord.
Through the eight years working with Bill I grew intellectually and spiritually, and was so appreciative of his guidance. His love of the Lord was evident, and I came to choose the better way.
Corinne Wilkinson Russ, editorial secretary, 1970–1982; administrative assistant, 1983–1990
My Boss, My Friend
How many workers can truly call their boss their friend? I could. How many are invited to his home for staff meetings and Christmas? I was. How many never had their boss say a cross or impatient word to them? I never did. How many exchange humorous notes with him? We did. How many hear him speak inspiring words and offer fervent prayers? I often did. How many have a boss who encourages them to do their best and offers words of appreciation rather than criticism? I had such a boss. His name? Bill Johnsson.
Not long ago I read an article on how a leader should relate to his workers. I said to myself, “That’s just what Bill did!” The 18 years he and Kenneth Wood were my boss were the happiest years of my working life!
Eugene F. Durand, assistant editor, 1975–1993
The Great Initiator
After the death of Elder Don Neufeld, I was the lone associate editor until Bill Johnsson came in September of 1980. After that he was also listed as an associate until later becoming the editor replacing Kenneth Wood. Dr. Johnsson and I enjoyed working with each other. He had a fun streak about him that I really appreciated as well as his talent, which was apparent
One of his great gifts was initiation. He somehow got the unions to join together on the idea of a paper to be sent free to all of North America, then came up with the plan for a section for kids and a special issue for youth. One of his recent initiatives was to push a special world magazine that really seems to be catching interest and attention from the whole world.
One of the first things I do when I get my Review is to turn to his editorials, which are always newsy and relevant. We certainly are going to miss them and him.
Leo Van Dolson, associate editor, 1979–1981
Little did I know the surprise that awaited me when I enrolled in a seminary New Testament course. The professor was unknown to me—William G. Johnsson—fresh from years in the mission field and from completing his doctorate. The surprise was how much I enjoyed his gentle and friendly demeanor, his mission-mindedness, his quick wit, and his scholarly approach with a pastor’s heart. He became my favorite teacher, and I ended up taking four courses from him.
Little did I know then that our hearts and lives would meld together in teamwork not many years later. When Bill called and asked if I’d consider being his associate editor, it took a whole month to decide. I loved pastoring. But in the end it was Bill’s heartfelt belief that won out—that the Adventist Review is a pastor for the worldwide church. I promised him four years. They stretched into 12, during which my admiration for Bill grew.
Beyond my initial impressions, I found other character traits that have made Bill the great editor he is. He has been a creative innovator, willing to embrace and implement change when it will better meet the needs of readers. One of his finest decisions ended the “potluck style” of content, which was largely chosen from the articles that arrived unsolicited. Bill asked all editors to direct the articles for selected categories and to listen to the needs of the church family, finding authors who would speak to those needs. Beyond this, Bill’s leadership established the monthly North American Division edition of the Adventist Review and now the Adventist World magazines. Those are no small feats.
Bill has the incredible gift of being able to synthesize almost anything quickly and speak of it in clear and masterful writing—truly a gift.
Myron Widmer, associate editor, 1984–1996
Making the Complex Simple
Bill Johnsson has been especially gifted by God with a remarkable ability to think through complex and challenging issues. While on occasion I have differed with his end conclusions, never has there been any question about his dedication or innate skills.
Coupled with this gift is his uncanny ability quickly to slip ideas, often profound ones, into written words—clear, unambiguous, and neatly crafted. Repeatedly, I have watched him formulate statements, reports, and position papers for groups and committees. Of course, such abilities have combined to make him an effective editor.
We have profited by our editor’s deep commitment to Christ and His work around the world. In special ways Bill’s blending of biblical truth with ready communication skills has kept the Adventist Review a witness to God’s truth in our troubled times.
George W. Reid, associate editor, 1982–1984
Gifted and Good
The Adventist Church has been fortunate to have an editor of the Adventist Review who is not only gifted but also good. Those who are competent are not always kind; those who are compassionate are not always wise. But, in Bill Johnsson, we have been blessed by an insightful scholar, masterful writer, and innovative communicator who also accepted his gifts as coming from God to be used for God’s people. His training as a scientist and theologian along with an upbringing in Australia and experience as a missionary endowed him with a large worldview.
Bill has an open mind and a pastor’s heart. Few church leaders have his gracious blend of sensitivity and diplomacy. He has steadied the church through crises and, while clear-eyed, has viewed the future with hope.
I’m grateful for all I learned from him during 10 years on the Adventist Review staff.
Kit Watts, assistant editor, 1987–1997
Bill Johnsson has always communicated well with his staff. He kept us informed of decisions made by committees on which he served that would affect us as a staff, the Adventist Review, or the church at large. He also trusted us with a great deal of information, and would share issues that he wished to remain confidential. The confidence he placed in us only increased our respect and loyalty for him. At times he would even seek our counsel to help guide him in a specific matter.
As an editor, Bill always made himself accessible to the staff. Rarely would he work behind a closed door. Even if he was writing, deep in thought, he would still be cordial to interruptions, and allow us to pop into his office to ask a question, get some information, or just share an idea.
Jackie Ordelheide Smith, editorial secretary, 1985-1991; editorial assistant, 1991-1994; marketing director, 2003-present
The Personal Touch
Hardly a day went by at the Review when Bill wouldn’t drop by our work stations to say hello. At first I thought he was checking up—and I’d begin naming all the things I’d done that day. Then I realized: he just liked us. He wanted to know us personally—to find something to laugh about together.
Andy Nash, assistant editor, 1997–1999
Taking the Long View
Not long after seminary I was assigned to a pastoral district near Pacific Union College in northern California. At the time, theological debate swirled around such topics as grace, the judgment, and the role of Ellen White in biblical interpretation. In the climate that surrounded those debates, several pastors left the Adventist ministry to serve parishes of other denominations, while others left the ministry altogether.
Our conference workers’ meeting in August 1981 was held at Rio Lindo Academy near Healdsburg. Bill Johnsson, then an associate editor of the Adventist Review, was one of the guest speakers. Early one morning as a few of us finished our morning run, we saw Bill chugging up the final hill onto the campus. As we cooled off, the conversation steered toward the theological climate of the church. I’ll never forget Bill’s counsel to us young pastors as the sun crested the surrounding hills: “The church needs you,” he said. He advised us to take the long view, to remember that while the pendulum swings between theological and social extremes, we should ground ourselves in the reality of God’s love and grace, and dedicate ourselves to serving His people. That was Bill Johnsson, pastor.
Always an admirer, I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to serve God with Bill on the staff of the Adventist Review/Adventist World. The last 12 years have been one of the highlights of my life.
Stephen Chavez, assistant editor, 1994–2002; managing editor, 2002–present
On Wednesday mornings the Adventist Review
staff meets for worship and prayer. Our speaker on this memorable morning in 1996 was Bill Johnsson. He shared a manuscript that had recently arrived in his “In” box.
“The Wedding Dress,” written by Barbara Frye, professor at Loma Linda University, told how she had given her own wedding dress to a dying patient who was going to be married in the hospital.
As Bill related the story with great feeling, I reached for a tissue and glanced around the table, noticing every tear-filled eye. (Yes, the men were also touched!) What a privilege to serve with such a team of workers who know how to “weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice!”
Jean Sequeira, editorial secretary, 1993–2001
The Unflappable Bill
After studying theology at Loma Linda University, devotional writing became my aspiration. Bill Johnsson gave me the opening to realize my desire.
I still remember my first attempts to express my faith through an editorial. During that first year at Adventist Review I would present Bill with a draft, and if he liked it, I continued with the topic. If not, he would simply say something like “It could work,” and I knew I needed to start all over again. With his support, I wrote articles and interviewed some of the most interesting people I have ever met.
His has been a difficult position with many challenges. I will remember Bill as a gentleman, unflappable under pressure, never raising his voice. I recall hearing about an interview he did several years ago with some aggressive adversaries. He won the respect of the audience by remaining calm and polite.
Ella M. Rydzewski, editorial assistant, 1995–2003
During my years at the Adventist Review, I witnessed and experienced Bill Johnsson’s extraordinary editorial leadership skills, spiritual devotion, and wisdom. The encouragement he often offered and his willingness to answer questions and give advice when needed (in my case, fairly often) became treasured memories. The relaxing atmosphere that he provided during our Wednesday morning worship and staff meeting hours, birthday celebrations, and the Christmas gatherings in his home made ordinary occasions into memorable events.
Myrna Tetz, managing editor, 1997–2002
Learning From a Master
The first time I met Bill Johnsson I was glad to be wearing a heavy periwinkle-colored suit jacket. Damp with perspiration, I shook his hand as he motioned for me to follow him into a conference room. I was being interviewed for the position of assistant editor and was nervous at being around such a keen, insightful writer—and respected intellect.
Bill quickly put me at ease as he encouraged me to answer the questions he and his associate editors posed. The questions were at once simple, tough, perplexing, and direct. But as Bill smiled with face and gestures, I soon unbent and spoke of my passion for sharing Jesus through the written word.
I got the job, and have spent the last seven years learning accuracy, kindness, transparency, and grace from a master. Bill pushed me to be my best during that interview, and the confidence he showed in me (and has continued to show since then) has helped me become a better worker for Christ. I’m grateful for this—and for his wit and wisdom.
Kimberly Luste Maran, assistant editor, 1999–present
“Make It Sing!”
One of the many things I have appreciated about Bill is his devotion to and affirmation of his staff. He consistently shows a respect for us as individuals as well as for our work.
Near the end of my first year at the Review, I wrote an editorial for one of our issues. After reading it, Bill came to my office, placed it on my desk, and said, “Bonita, I’ve written a few suggestions for you in regards to your editorial. Make it sing! I know you can do it!”
Because of his encouragement and suggestions, I did make that editorial sing. Even more important, his gracious words and actions through the years have added a beautiful verse to the song of my life.
Bonita Joyner Shields, assistant editor, 2002–present
For God and People
When I think of Bill Johnsson, adjectives that come to mind are “gracious,” “kind,” “committed,” and “Christian.” Love for God and dedication to His church are clearly evident in everything Bill does—from the rapport with his staff to his attention to detail in all aspects of the Adventist Review
and Adventist World
publishing process. He cares about people, and he cares about the mission of the church.
I have especially appreciated Bill’s routine of coming by each staff member’s office/cubicle to ask how things are going and offer words of appreciation and encouragement. That personal contact has been very important to all of us.
Sandra Blackmer, news editor, 2004–present
An Illustrious Ministry
Francis D. Nichol, a true spiritual and literary giant, was famous for saying to aspiring editors, “It takes 15 years to become an editor.” By that standard, after being one of the editors of the Review for 26 years—the last 24 as editor-in-chief—Bill’s credentials are unchallenged.
I was in on the beginning of this illustrious phase of Bill’s ministry. That gives me a great deal of satisfaction. Who knew that he would be editor for a quarter century, and that I would have the privilege of offering congratulations as he lays aside his editorial pen to enjoy the less pressure-filled life of retirement! Truly the Lord has been good.
Kenneth H. Wood, editor, 1966–1982; chair, Ellen G. White Estate Board of Trustees, 1980–present
Steady Nerves, Gifted Pen
It takes steady nerves and a gifted pen to edit a journal that serves a faith community as culturally and geographically diverse as ours. For almost a quarter of a century Bill Johnsson has undertaken this task with adroitness and care. And as Bill comes to the close of his service as senior editor, I am glad to have the opportunity to say a few words of thanks to a man who has contributed so much.
You do not have to read far to discover that Bill’s trademark is his eloquence; an ease of expression, an ability to clearly and concisely communicate ideas, a writing style that is warm and personal. His voice and pen have spoken movingly to church members through both high times and difficult times. He has encouraged, reassured, challenged.
During his tenure, Bill has led the Adventist Review through significant developments, most recently with the launch of Adventist World—a journal that begins a new era in Adventist publishing and communication.
But beyond this, those who have served with Bill through the years appreciate most the things that mark him as a true Christian gentleman: his unfailingly gentle manner and his love for his church family and his Lord.
I thank Bill for his faithful service. Through his life and work he has nurtured God’s church and turned hearts and minds toward the Creator. And there can be no more meaningful tribute than that.
Jan Paulsen, president, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists