, 2014


by Henry Lane Hull

In literature one of the iconic images described by many authors across the centuries is the role of the preacher’s wife. The personage depicted always shines in a glow of intelligence, good judgment, dignity and grace. In the Northern Neck for over a century we experienced such a figure in our midst.

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She was Mrs. Edna Cralle Johnston, the widow of Dr. Joseph S. Johnston, one of the most profound orators of The Word ever to speak in our area. As a couple they totally complemented each other. He was a brilliant intellectual who could hold a congregation in awe as he spoke, and she was the ever-present foil to his persona.

I first met them almost 30 years ago in the days when Ann Parsons Carter operated the Lancaster Tavern. Ann’s practice was to sit people together as they came in the restaurant, and on one evening she directed me to a table where the Johnstons were sitting. Meeting them for me, as for thousands of others over the course of their long lives, was a memorable experience.

He was the erudite Yale-educated clergyman, who had founded Virginia Wesleyean College, and she was the living repository of the history of all facets of the development of the Northern Neck. They were two of the most genuine people I ever have met, teeming with knowledge, but more importantly, with goodness.

Shortly after our meeting, Dr. Johnston completed the editing of the journal of his grandfather, a circuit-riding Methodist preacher, and he kindly asked me for my comments. The book was extraordinary, tracing all aspects of the life of a rural minister. As he pored over the manuscript, his good wife gave him the encouragement and support garnered from her own impressive academic credentials to complete the task at hand.

One evening the Johnstons invited me to dinner in their stately home in White Stone where her family had lived amidst the surroundings of generations with portraits of ancestors gazing down upon contemporary occupants, and where they had entered matrimony many decades earlier. The meal was as great as the conversation, and on that occasion and others that followed, I deepened my understanding of what spectacular individuals each of them was.

Dr. Johnston died nine years ago at the age of 93, having preached nearly to the end of his life. That ability was a gift he never lost, and he knew it was his mission to preach to anyone who would listen. The brilliance of his mind shined forth until the end.

For almost a decade, Mrs. Johnston lived on, enjoying life, and as her health ebbed away she remained the sweet and grateful person she had been all her life. Last week, one month after her 102nd birthday she died. Her wake was held in the family home, in the room where she had married her illustrious husband, under the abiding portraits of family members, and surrounded by the furnishing that characterized their lives there.

Edna Cralle Johnston was a lady who embodied Christian virtue and by simply being herself, she was a model and inspiration for everyone who knew her. She spoke eloquently, and had the ability of making everyone realize how important he or she was to her. She was born before the First World War, and lived to see the rise and fall of the dictatorships of the 20th century, evidence that the goodness expressed in the Scriptures that had guided her life as well as that of her beloved husband, were truly eternal.

To sum up her life in a brief word, one can say that she was a Great Lady, but more importantly, she would ask us to remember her as a lifelong Christian who worked in The Lord’s vineyard.

Edna Cralle Sanders Johnston, July 26, 1911 – August 26, 2013. R.I.P.

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