Buffalo Trace Distillery tells BourbonBlog.com that Jimmy Johnson lost his brave battle with cancer on January 19th.
A longtime friend, historian, and supporter Jimmy’s title upon retirement from Buffalo Trace Distillery was Warehouse Supervisor, but as we all know, his lively manner and sense of humor made him so much more to everyone who met him.
With the exception of a five year tour in the Army Air Corp during WWII where he was stationed in Guam, Jimmy spent 42 years with us. He came to us in 1936 as a Warehouse Yard Person, responsible for hauling aged bourbon barrels to be dumped for bottling. As a second generation employee, Jimmy was following in his father’s footsteps. Jimmy’s father, James Sr., worked here from 1912 to 1964 so Jimmy had not only his father’s reputation to live up to, but also his father’s watchful eye making sure he was doing a good job.
While at the Distillery, Jimmy spent many years learning and understanding the effect different warehouses had on barrels of aging whisky. As a Leak Hunter/Stopper, Jimmy was selected as part of a crew to inspect barrels at various storage facilities including Bardstown and Lexington, Ky, and Cincinnati, Ohio locations. Through this role Jimmy mastered the ability to repair leaking barrels while the whiskey was still in the barrel, a very valuable skill to have to protect our precious whiskey.
Jimmy also partnered with Elmer T. Lee in identifying where exceptional single barrels of aging bourbon (or “honey” barrels) could be found in the warehouses. He later became Warehouse Supervisor, the first African American to hold this position, and remained in that role until his retirement in 1978.
After retirement, Jimmy remained active, coming back to the Distillery in 2008 to roll out the 6 millionth barrel of bourbon produced since prohibition. Jimmy had rolled out every millionth barrel of bourbon this distillery had ever produced since prohibition. In 2009 Buffalo Trace Distillery dedicated the “James B. Johnson, Jr. Room,” located within the employee clubhouse, to Jimmy.
Jimmy would have been 95 years old in just a few weeks. His son Freddie carries on the family tradition as a tour guide in the Visitor’s Center and is the third generation of the Johnson family to work here.
Jimmy was one of the original members of the Old Stagg Group of retirees who retired from the Distillery but never really left us. Anyone who knew Jimmy knows that his spirit and his stories will live on forever through not only his son Freddie, but through the thousands of visitors who have been touched by their family’s stories.
In addition to Jimmy’s activities at Buffalo Trace Distillery, he also was an Honorary Kentucky Colonel, served as the Treasurer of the Senior Citizens Group for Frankfort, and was an active member of First Baptist Church in Frankfort, Ky.
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