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Obituary - William B. Johnson




He's Puttin' On The Ritz with William B. & Sandra Johnson

JOHNSON, William B. 1937-2016 William B. Johnson passed away on June 12, 2016 after a long illness. Mr. Johnson is survived by his wife, Sandra Thome Johnson, a graduate of Agnes Scott. An Atlanta native, Johnson graduated from Decatur High School in 1955 and from Georgia Institute of Technology with a degree in Industrial Management.

After graduation, Johnson became a management trainee at a local bank and then worked in the real estate investment arm of an insurance company. He opened his first Waffle House in 1966. Johnson grew his ownership of the all-night diners to more than 150, and he became the largest franchisee. Johnson is best known as the developer of the The Ritz-Carlton Hotel chain. The Atlanta businessman bought the Boston Ritz-Carlton in 1983 and built the brand into a world-famous chain setting a new standard for hotel luxury. Johnson first developed The Ritz-Carlton in Buckhead, downtown Atlanta, Laguna Beach, California, and Naples, Florida.


JFK's Monopoly & William B. Johnson

By the early 1990s, there were twenty hotels. In 1992, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company won the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the first hotel company to achieve this distinction. Remarkably, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company won the Baldridge again in 1999, the only company in the service industry to win two times. In his development of The Ritz-Carlton chain, Johnson challenged industry conventions. He became known for his courage and visionary leadership. He was also known for demanding extraordinary performance from his executives, a dogged pursuit of excellence, and for creating a tremendous sense of urgency in all who worked for him. At the same time he reminded everyone around him to remember their roots. All who visited Johnson's offices were served coffee in Waffle House paper cups.

Johnson served on a number of boards, including Chairmanship of the Board at Berry College in Rome, Georgia. He also served on the Board of Directors of SunTrust Banks of Atlanta and Provident Unum, a Fortune 500 Company headquartered in Chattanooga. Johnson served on the Insight for Living Board, as well as the Foundation of Holy Apostles. Johnson also served on the vestry of Church of the Apostles. He brought his development and construction expertise to the church when it built it well-known sanctuary visible from I-75 near West Paces Ferry.


Waterfall's Big Chief & William B. Johnson

Johnson was an avid sportsman and loved to sail. Earlier in his career, he bought the 73-foot Windward Passage and competed in elite international regattas.

More recently, Johnson bred Walking Horses at Waterfall Farms in Shelbyville, Tennessee and won a number of World Grand Championships. The Johnsons owned the 1996 World Grand Champion, He's Puttin' On The Ritz. Johnson captured his last two World Championships in the same year, 2006. First, he directed A JFK's Monopoly to the Elite Owner Amateur Gentlemen Riders on Stallions. Then, he and Gen's Black Gin brought home the blue in the Owner Amateur Riders on Stallions 15.2 & Under. THe Johnsons also owned noted champions such as Mister Pushbutton, JFK All Over, John FK's Pusher, Generator's Man Of Magic, The Titleist and many more!


Despite his reputation as a savvy deal maker and industry icon, Johnson was also known as humble, quiet and private. He avoided all media exposure. His casual and affable style was reserved for friends and especially children. He loved and encouraged children to excel, providing scholarships for numerous students through a family foundation.

There will be a reception held on Monday, June 20, 2016 at 10:00 a.m. at The Church of the Apostles Chapel at 3585 Northside Parkway, NW, Atlanta, Georgia 30027. Memorial Service will follow at 11:00 a.m.

In lieu of flowers, please make donations in Bill Johnson's memory to: Leading The Way Ministries | 3585 Northside Parkway, NW| Atlanta, Georgia 30027 |or Sandell Ministries, Inc. | 2792 Livsey Trail | Tucker, Georgia 30084. 

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