The workers' comp world was saddened last week when we heard of the passing of Dwight Johnson. Dwight had become a bit of celebrity within our industry, and was widely respected as an inspirational force defining positive outcomes despite physical impairments. Dwight is best known to most for the brightly colored shoes he created; shoes that were perpetually modeled by the late David Depaolo.
According to his family, Dwight's heart simply stopped Thursday. He was 61.
Dwight was an injured worker. A high rise window installation inspector, he lost both of his legs in two separate industrial incidents. Despite horrific losses, he resolved to make the most out of his life, and ultimately returned to an earlier artistic passion; albeit in a circuitous route. Growing weary of people looking at his prosthetic legs, he decided to make brightly colored acrylic shoes to create a better interaction and dialogue. The shoes proved to be a hit, and his company, Soule Innovations, was born.
Dwight worked to support and provide these shoes for wounded warriors and others in similar situations. A local news story about his efforts caught the attention of David Depaolo, and Dwight was an early honoree of the Comp Laude Awards. He and Depaolo became very close friends, and Depaolo made Dwight a household name within the industry. Dwight, featured heavily in Comp Laude promotional material, is most recognizable to many as the face of Comp Laude.
I first met Dwight after David's tragic and untimely death. I reached out to order a pair of shoes to wear in Depaolo's honor at an upcoming conference. Due to a terrific stroke of luck, he was scheduled to visit family in my area and delivered them in person.
Dwight Johnson could best be described as just an enormous teddy bear of a man. Compassionate and outgoing, he emitted a “Will Rogers” persona, in that he never seemed to meet a person he did not like. He considered many people friends, and it was easy to be drawn into his orbit. I had the pleasure of meeting several members of his family, both on that visit and at Comp Laude events, and I can tell you they are a close knit and extraordinary bunch.
Dwight Johnson represented what is impossible for many. He was able to create a new life and have positive impact despite impairment that would have sidelined many. He was a person who experienced the same sadness and depression you would expect after dealing with such loss, but who chose to cast that aside and live the best life he could live. And he wanted to share that message with others. In addition to his work with injured soldiers, he desired to expand his speaking opportunities. Dwight had a positive message to share, and he knew it could help those in need.
A Memorial service will be held Saturday, March 11th at 10:00am, at Sacred Heart in Enumclaw, WA. A Reception will follow. The family will be designating a charity or charities to which contributions may be made in his honor. I will update this article and post an announcement in my blog when that information is available.
Dwight's passing is a sudden and tragic loss for our industry. He was more than an artist, he was a symbol of what can still be right in a world that has so much wrong. The man may be gone, but his message can live on through those who had the honor of knowing him. Dwight Johnson had heart. And Soule. And ironically, the legacy he leaves has “legs”. It is a positive message of love, compassion and hope; and for that we should be thankful.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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