Thursday, December 10, 2009


Earlier this year, when I started these birthday blog posts, I got the following e-mail (which I already posted once so don't say you do not get blog love, Mark):

"Look, I never get ANY love at all on your blog. Long time reader, helped you get this dream job, listened to your family issues from time to time, featured you on a poster around campus, even have a picture of you and me in my office, and who is the greatest male in the world? Wes Bonds. Or maybe Eric Dunlap. Neither of whom you would have met without CWE by the way, so you are welcome AGAIN. And I hate birthdays by the way. I take off from work so I don't have to be here for any stupid surprise party or anything. I always go to the dentist that day as long as it is during the week. I figure if I am going to be miserable getting older, just lump all the misery into one day."

So, lest I contribute to the misery, I have to recognize that today is Mark’s birthday. Happy birthday, Marky Mark! And sadly, this is the only picture I have of us because I was still using Kodak film when I worked for you. That is scary.
Speaking of scared, I was actually very scared of Mark before I met him. Maybe because what he had (power to make me a Camp War Eagle counselor), I wanted.

Since we all know the long story of how I didn’t make CWE the first time I tried out, I’ll go straight to the time I did make CWE counselor! Hooray! Right out of the gate, I realized I was going to really enjoy working for Mark. One of the first things we were trained on were Mark’s Pet Peeves:

• Being late
• Someone talking, laughing, whispering or other general rudeness while a speaker is talking
• Extraneous noise (crunching ice/clicking pens/popping notebooks/cell phones)
• Leaving trash in our room
• Being unprepared (don’t have notebook, failed test(s), don’t know Creed or other Auburn information, skit lines not written or memorized, etc.)
• Complaining without offering suggestions
• Inappropriate or unprofessional presentation
• Having an indifferent or lackadaisical attitude
• Ruffling books before we are through; we will dismiss you on time
• Being disrespectful to staff or fellow Camp Counselors either verbally or non-verbally
• Eating sandwiches for dinner. Sandwiches are for lunch. Period.
• Sitting on my tables. Chairs are for sitting.
(The sandwiches thing is new since 2004, by the way. We would have had some conflict over that one. Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches? Always good.)

Obviously the summer of 2004 was one of the best summers of my whole life and getting to know Mark was a huge reason why. He was such a good boss. One minute he’s firmly telling you to learn the creed or just go home (“Is the creed funny?”) Then, the next minute, he was laughing with us about something ridiculous someone did or said (“Asian…or whatever.”) As I found it to be, he is the type of boss for whom you gladly work your tail off because he deserves that kind of respect and work ethic.

At the end of the summer, we were evaluated on our summer-long performance. It was both my greatest fear and greatest hope that I would be evaluated by Mark. I was nervous beyond any normal amount of nervousness. Part of it was I had tried so hard to do a good job that summer, that if he told me I’d actually sucked at my job or let him down, I might have jumped out the window. The other part of the nerves were wounds re-opening from my first-ever job evaluation from the previous summer, when I learned I was a horrible, unfriendly and bitter person. When I explained to him why I was literally shaking in fear of what he was going to tell me, he laughed and said he was here to offer constructive criticism, not just criticism for the sake of it. And then we talked about why I was his favorite counselor ever and hiring me was the best decision he ever made!

After he wasn’t my boss anymore (through no choice of my own), Mark became my wisest friend. One of my favorite things about Mark is that he asks the best questions. He’s so intuitive and a very genuine listener.

And after I had to leave Auburn (once again, through no choice of my own) I often called or e-mailed Mark for random favors and questions, including the frequent “Can I give them your name as an employer reference?” I was so glad to hear through the grapevine that he and his delightful wife Sarah were having a daughter.

Mark’s tenth year as Director of Camp War Eagle came and went a few years ago. Melissa made him a scrapbook and asked all of his former counselors to contribute a letter to include. I will just copy and paste what I wrote, because it’s just as true as anything I can come up with today. Plus, there's only so many ways you can tell a person how great you think they are before it starts to get awkward.


Six NINE years ago when I was competing in Junior Miss, I was asked what type of impact of impact I'd like to have on society. I thought about that question and remembered my church's Christmas Eve service, where the pastor would light a candle, then turn and light the candles of the people standing next to him, who would follow suit until the whole church was full of light, all because of one candle.

When I think about your ten-year span as Director of Camp War Eagle, the exact memory comes to mind. I cannot image doing anything in the next 50 years that could match the impact you've made the last 10. Not only has your leadership inspired me and my fellow counselors, but your legacy and example will live on through the energy, care and compassion we learned how to show our campers and will be able to show our spouses, children and friends.

I am so excited that you're about to become a father, and will tell you again how extremely envious I am of your child. But I hope you know that to an extent, you're already a father to so many. Just as a father sets a legacy for his children, you have demonstrated Godly leadership and influenced ten years of counselors who will lead, guide and influence families of their own.

I'm sure you remember me sobbing in your office during my exit evaluation. I told you how scared I was of what you'd say. But I wasn't scared of being told I'd done anything wrong [editor's note: that's a lie]; I was scared I'd find out that I'd let you down. Those tears and these words are indicative of how much I respect you.

Thank you for doing what you do. I hope after reading the words in this collection of letters that you finally grasp how grateful we all are for you and your investment in our lives. I could write forever about how much you and Camp War Eagle mean to me (I even asked Melissa for a word count), but I think the best way to sum it up is with a quote. Ralph Waldo Emerson concludes one of his most famous quotes with the phrase "to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived - this is to have succeeded."

Mark, my life was made easier because of your guidance, your advice, your example and your friendship. In the darkest hour of my 24 years, you made life easier with your words and concern. Additionally, my years at Auburn and my memories there - which shape my life daily - would not compare to what they would have been without your influence.

I'm sure one day we will lose touch and I will stop e-mailing you wanting stuff like creed cards, but I hope you know and keep this letter as a reminder that your impact will never be forgotten or your example abandoned. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Respectfully, gratefully and forever indebted,


Cheesy? Perhaps. True? 150%. Mark, I think you know by now that I think you're just the cat's pajamas. I think our journey went from boss to friend and now you hover somewhere in between friend and father figure. Even though you're not old enough to be my father... or are you? At least you're old enough to party, and that's all that really counts.

I know a lot of you reading this have a Mark memory... won't you share it with the rest of the class?


  1. A whole Mark post without a single mention of Lee Miller?

    I promise to post a serious comment about Mark after I can gather my thoughts and put them into words.

  2. Oh, Copa Cabana. I was thrown off by the sandwich rule, but everything else rang oh so true!! Love it.

  3. I am so with Mark on the sandwiches. Unless we're counting hamburgers (or Chic-fil-A), in which case I am in trouble.

    Where to even begin with Mark? He sets such a high bar for bosses/friends/fathers I don't even know where to begin ... Happy Birthday, Mark!

  4. As a parent I was impressed with Mark when he handled a problem for Jennie at Camp War Eagle before you ever knew him Lindsay! He embodies the Auburn Cred!

  5. Great post Lindsay! All of it is very true to who he is. Happy Birthday Mark. Truly a great boss/co-worker/example.

  6. "handled a problem for Jennie at Camp War Eagle" hahahaha

    What an intro to the Johnson family. Ten years later, I am still dealing with them.

    Thanks for the post Lindsay/ey (whichever). Trust me, I really am nowhere near what some of you have me built up in your minds to be.

  7. I was going to say, you didn't tell about Mark's introduction to our family!

  8. I'm glad you're good with words. I feel like Mark deserves every word in this post.

    I don't think I got to know Mark as well as the other ones on this post. To me, Mark gives me a concrete example of what it means to be a good leader. The details are important. He's clear about what is right and wrong. He's doesn't sell people short or enable people. He demands a lot. He also rewards you and keeps you motivated whether that be with this CWE sweatshirt that I'm wearing right now or a bottomless jar of Peanut M&M's. He's a good guy to drive the ship.

    Happy (belated) Birthday Mark. I like you a lot.


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