Longtime shoe cobbler and Honorary Mayor of FC dies

Hardy Johnson, 95, served in Army in Korean War

By Steve Williams

Hardy Otto Johnson, Jr., of Knoxville, one of the oldest and most experienced shoe cobblers in the nation, passed away last Monday (March 25) at the age of 95.

Born on July 12, 1928, he was the third in four generations of cobblers in his family and was assisted by his son, Jimmy, in his later years.

Johnson also served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, and five years ago said: “It was one of the best times in my life. It was different. You were around good people.”

After returning from military service in 1953, he continued working in the shoe business and became the owner of Custom Shoe Rebuilders at 5503 North Broadway in Fountain City.

Doug Ashe, a special friend of the Johnson family, figured up Hardy had worked “80 years” in the shoe business.

“He started working when he was between eight and 10 years old,” said Ashe. “He was actually managing at a shoe shop up on Gay Street (in downtown Knoxville) when he was I think maybe 14. But he had to start early because his parents were sick.”

As the years went by, Johnson became a well known and well liked person in Fountain City.

He was known as the Honorary Mayor of Fountain City, a former Fountain City Man of the Year, and Grand Marshal of the Fountain City Christmas Parade.

He attended Bethel Baptist Church.

A tireless worker, Johnson often was on the job at his Broadway location six days a week and 10 hours a day in his 80s and early 90s.

He said at his 90th birthday party his knees had gotten “much worse” since the year before, but he still managed to get around and work and was “thankful” for that.

When once asked what his secret was for a long life, Hardy answered: “Just keep at it. Don’t give up. Keep going. Even though you feel bad or anything, keep going.”

Employees at neighboring businesses loved Hardy.

“He’s the most excellent human being I’ve ever encountered in my 60 years,” said Vickie Henson of Henson’s Automotive & Alignment. “He’s real. He’s the same every day. He’s just got a smile on his face all the time. It makes you feel good to be around him.”

The love went both ways.

Johnson loved his customers and friends that stopped in to see him regularly, and he enjoyed greeting them daily at the shop until his final days.

Sadly, back in September, Hardy lost a special companion, Shiloh, the pup whom he had loved and cared for the last 13 years.

Hardy’s son and daughter-in-law, Teresa, were at his side when he passed away.

He also is survived by grandson Justin Johnson and his wife Amanda, great granddaughter Olive James “O.J.” Johnson and stepdaughter Kathy Satterfield.

Ashe started working at the shoe shop seven years ago.

“Hardy was an amazing man,” said Ashe. “He’s taught me more in seven years than I’ve learned in a lifetime about the shoe business and life in general.

“He was actually more of a father to me than my own father was. I just loved that man dearly.”

Ashe added that Johnson pretty much stopped working at the shop when the pandemic hit. “He would still come to the shop every day, but he would just sit around and talk to people. His mind was still sharp as a tack.”

The passing of his dog Shiloh last fall took a toll on Johnson. “He was kind of lost after the dog left,” said Doug.

The Knoxville City Police was honored Friday to provide an escort from Mynatt Funeral Home in Halls to the cemetery and serve as pallbearers.

“Hardy was an honorary member of the Blue Hawks because he did their entire shoe repair,” said Ashe.

The graveside service was at Fort Sumter Community Cemetery in Halls.