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87-year-old woman honored for decades of shaping lives through music

Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 5:12 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 18, 2021 at 2:57 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A good teacher can be the difference between failure and success.

For 74 years, Mrs. Ethel Johnson taught hundreds of kids from the Tidewater area to Richmond, all the right notes in the key of life.

“I never counted the years, in fact, it went by very rapidly,” said Johnson.

A teacher by trade, Johnson says in the 1950s, as part of her job she had to visit the homes of each of her students.

“When I would go to the homes, I would see the living conditions they were in. I could get an idea of how much love they got from their parents, and at that time some of them really, really needed love,” said Johnson.

That struck a chord.

Johnson knew that she could have an impact outside of the classroom, the 88-keys on the piano was the way to do it. Her basement was where the magic happened.

“This place has been the center of that teaching, that love, for many, many years,” she said.

Johnson stopped teaching about 3 years ago and gave up control of the children’s choir at church and her piano students.

“It was one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life,” she said.

But her legacy lives on in Hannah Taylor one of Mrs. Johnson’s former students. Taylor is now a student at Henrico High School participating in the marching band, musical theatre and has dreams of being an actress or a singer.

“I just thank her for teaching me piano, something that makes me whole,” said Taylor. “But also that teaching has led me to find, I think, my purpose and my brother’s purpose into careers we really want to do and pursue.”

Her older brother, Charles, started learning the piano under Mrs. Johnson at just 5 years old. Now, he’s a Virginia State University graduate and wants to become a musician.

Angela Taylor has watched her children blossom under the tutelage of Mrs. Johnson.

“She has been a teacher to them, help them in school, listen to them, and she says they brought her joy, they keep her young as she celebrates her birthday,” said Taylor.

Surprising Mrs. Johnson with the NBC12 Acts of Kindness was the perfect way to say thank you. The family shared a few warm hugs and showed their gratitude to a woman who made such a difference in the lives of so many.

“Thank you for just teaching me and caring for me and being there more than just a piano teacher you’re my grandmother and a family member,” said Hannah Taylor.

Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.

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