GEORGETOWN—Walter F. Johnson III, known as Wally to his friends and family, said his life is a testament to God’s goodness and the power of prayer.
Johnson, 70, spent his first decade in the Gadsden Green public housing development in Charleston. His first job was a newspaper route. From the beginning, his parents, Walter and Inez, instilled in him a commitment to hard work and education, and strong religious faith.
He was raised Episcopalian, but attended Catholic schools in Charleston and converted while attending college in West Virginia.
He said his faith and the values his parents taught him guided him to a successful career in the U.S. Army, where he retired as a brigadier general. In 1996, Johnson and some family members founded Eagle Group International, a successful contracting company that was purchased by Lockheed Martin Corporation in 2008.
Johnson has been married to his wife Doris for 50 years. They raised six children and have 14 grandchildren. In the ’90s, the couple bought property in Georgetown and moved there permanently in 2001 from Atlanta. He said they love being near the water.
Now, Johnson said he can concentrate on his main goal in life: to give back to others.
“I pray hard, and I mainly pray that I can be the distribution point for God’s love and grace,” he said in a recent interview with The Miscellany. “I want to share that with everyone.”
He is on many different boards, but two projects are especially important to him.
The couple has purchased 20 lots on the west side of Georgetown in recent years, where many of the houses are older and people live in dilapidated rental trailers.
“I’ve been in some of the trailers where you could see ground through the floor and sky through the ceiling,” Johnson said.
Their goal is to eventually build brick duplexes on the lots and offer safe, pleasant housing for families. Each unit will include central heat and air, a fully furnished kitchen, a washer and dryer, and a yard with play equipment for children.
One duplex has been completed already, and Johnson said 20 people applied to live in it, underscoring the need for affordable housing in the area.
His other main project, one he calls his passion, can be found down a winding dirt road off U.S. 17 just south of downtown.
It is the Georgetown Marine Institute, founded in 1989 as a non-profit rehabilitation program for middle- and high-school boys from around South Carolina.
The youth are selected by the Department of Juvenile Justice. During stays that average about six months, they are taught self-discipline, accountability, behavior and character strengths, and also improve their academic skills. In eight years, 81 percent of their graduates did not re-offend, according to program statistics.
Johnson serves on the executive committee for the Marine Institute and helps organize their annual golf tournament fundraiser. He also spreads the word about the institute’s needs to all who will listen.
His goal is to rebuild the facility, which is currently housed in small wooden buildings, and include space for girls. He said there are no programs like the institute for females. Estimated costs are $3.5 million, but Johnson is committed to the goal.
“We know this is the right thing to do,” he said. “This program not only gives kids a chance, but it helps them to become productive citizens. They’re learning to contribute, to give back to society.”
Johnson has also written a book that he hopes will inspire young people to pursue their goals and live moral lives. “I Can Do That! Advice for Spiritual Entrepreneurs” is scheduled for publication July 23 by the Evening Post Publishing Company.
The autobiography describes the principles Johnson used to set up his business and offers advice on how to take advantage of opportunities despite setbacks in life.
A key element is to keep God close. Johnson attends Mass at least three times a week and is involved in activities at both St. Cyprian and St. Mary, Our Lady of Ransom churches. He said his faith is at the center of everything he does.
Every morning, he starts off with an hour of prayers, including special ones for his marriage, his children, and family members living and dead. Johnson also keeps a rosary in his car which he uses to pray silently and almost constantly while on road trips.
“Many of my prayers are ‘thank yous’ because I’ve realized how thankful I am about my life, and I believe it’s our responsibility to share with others,” he said. “I’m blessed. I feel that so strongly. The older I get, the more I believe that.”