Remembrances of Huey Johnson

Remembrances of Huey Johnson

3 Responses

  1. Phil Greenberg

    In late 1977 Governor Jerry Brown convinced Huey to accept an appointment as his Secretary For Resources for the State of California, a cabinet-level position. Huey soon discovered that as Secretary he had authority over certain aspects of nuclear power and radioactive materials use in California. So he created the inter-agency California State Task Force on Nuclear Energy and Radioactive Materials to review those specific areas of jurisdiction and practice. In November 1977 Huey recruited me to staff, guide, and oversee the Task Force work. He eventually anointed me Chairman. The 22 State agencies comprising the Task Force were expected to assign staff as needed to work part-time on Task Force meetings, issues, research and reports. I was given an office in the Secretary’s suite on the 13th floor of the Resources Agency building in downtown Sacramento, a few blocks from the Capitol.

    A week or so after I started I was invited to attend my first staff meeting in the Secretary’s large personal office. Huey had a big desk, and there was also a small conference area, which was set up with a table and chairs for about 6-7 people. But Huey had done away with most of the state-issued furniture. There were several hanging chairs (hanging on ropes from the ceiling) and also some normal chairs, all grouped around a small, beautiful hand-made redwood burl table that had a top made from a slab of polished granite or some similar beautiful stone. It was a classic Huey touch.

    I put my materials in some folders and took a pad of paper and walked into the meeting. Everyone else was already seated when I arrived; apparently they all had gotten there early. There was one chair left, just to Huey’s right, and Huey motioned me to take it. I sat down and put my folders and pad in front of me on the table.

    Suddenly, the stone tabletop under my small pile of papers crumbled, spilling piece of stone and my papers all over the floor. Huey startled, and then immediately said loudly and with obvious irritation “You just BROKE my table!!” I was shocked and mortified. Scrambling to pick up the papers and debris, I stammered an apology and tried to explain that it was only a few papers and I hadn’t been careless or heavy-handed when I put my things down. Huey just repeated “You broke my table!!”

    A moment later — Huey and everyone else in the room burst out laughing. It took me a few seconds to realize that I’d been had. It was a setup for the new kid on the block. The “broken” piece of stone had been carefully balanced in its place, and my position at the table was set beforehand. Everyone else knew that when I put my things down on the table, or put any weight on it at all, the piece of stone top was going to crumble to the floor. They were just waiting.

    I was still somewhat embarrassed but I had to laugh; Huey had gotten me good.

    Later I learned that all the other people there had been through the same rite of passage. Each in turn had “broken Huey’s table” when they attended their first staff meeting in his private office. And later I participated as one of the onlookers when some other new staffers had the same trick played on them.

    The pressure at high levels of State government was usually intense; but Huey always kept his sense of humor and perspective, and in the midst of the continuing chaos he routinely made us all laugh at one thing or another.

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