Obituary of Eric J. Johnson
Eric J. Johnson - Slingerlands
Eric, EJ, Big E, Bobo, Erico, Ebert, Ben, Uncle E, Uncle Ben . . . no matter what name you called him, Eric J. Johnson was a force of nature.
Just days after his 64th birthday, Eric was suddenly called to eternal life on Friday, October 13, 2023, at St. Peter’s Hospital with his beloved sister, Kristin, and his life partner, Grace, at his side.
He was a man of enormous creativity, humor, spontaneity, and had a huge heart. If you were a friend of Eric's, you knew you had a friend for life. His loyalty was undeniable. He built treasured lifelong friendships, even remaining best buddies with the kid who beat him up for his lunch money in kindergarten. His social circles ran wide, deep and varied – from the Class of ’77 to world-class BBQ competitors and celebrities to fellow foodies and remarkable restauranteurs – testimony to who he was and the life he led.
Beginning in childhood, Eric loved spending summers at Lake George, Cape Cod and Lake Champlain and became an avid boater. Growing up in the Helderbergs, on the way to Thacher Park, at an early age Eric discovered a love for downhill skiing and committed more time to mastering that sport than anything else. He loved being a part of Voorheesville's ski club and every winter, he would build a couple of ski jumps around his house so he and his ski bum friends could practice for the really big jumps at any New England ski mountain. It wasn’t unusual to walk in his bedroom only to find sketches of ski mountains scattered all over the place. Maybe this was the beginning of his designing and building passion.
“Cousining” was one of Eric’s favorite family pastimes (a term that has been passed on to the next gen in his family.) One ”cousining” moment that is mentioned every single Thanksgiving was around the “family band,” The Starshines performing “Sweet Caroline,” which unofficially has become the Gleason/Johnson family anthem. Even with all that practice, one little niece asked “Unc E, why do you sing? It doesn’t sound good.” They have enjoyed that kind of banter since she first learned to talk.
Eric spent most of his career in the building trades. He treasured the friendships he made while building some of the Capital Region’s most gorgeous homes, as well as many of the neighborhoods developed by The Michaels Group. He could look at any area of land and, in seconds, describe the house that would best sit there, the direction it would face, and the trees that would stay while others would be removed. Eric could describe the fine details he imagined in each room of that house, including the sizes and shapes of fixtures, colors, and window placements. Eric and Grace enjoyed many a party or lovely dinner in some of the spectacular homes he built whose owners became dear friends.
The Michaels Group was his second family for most of his life. Dear Marion, the matriarch, always referred to Eric as her fifth son. Sharing a youth filled with shenanigans; and later, careers, holidays, weddings, babies, graduations, divorces, and funerals with the entire Michaels family was a cherished component of Eric’s life, and helped define the man he was.
Spending much time working in New York City, Eric was a master of beating traffic jams, and knowing the best alternate routes. He had the geographic memory of a polar bear: once he’d been to any spot, he never forgot how to get there again. Of course, in New York City, he found all the best local restaurants and bodegas, steering away from the tourist areas. Eric thought nothing of spontaneously hopping in the car for a weekend in Boston, NYC, Maine, or Rhode Island.
Eric became a master of the pig roast, annually co-hosting a picnic for hundreds in the Clifton Park area. That led to an invitation to judge a national BBQ championship in Memphis, where he decided his BBQ was just as good as those national champions. And so began his love of competition BBQ.
Eric won an award for brisket in the very first contest he entered. Within the year, he won an invitation to “The Jack,” the world championship in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Eric and Grace left there with First Place in brisket and Third Place overall, against champions from each of the 50 states and eighteen other countries. Winning at the World Championship within a year of beginning competition was a unique and proud accomplishment. So many amazing friends were made across the country through the five years of competing. With no notice, one friend from Texas dropped off a smoker with friends in Kansas City hoping (correctly) they would bring it back to New York as a gift for him. Only Eric could inspire that. The BBQ world admired Eric’s talents, humor, and genuine ability to make friends, many of whom have stayed connected over the years since deciding to move on from competition.
Eric mentored many friends, colleagues, BBQ teams and restauranteurs. One “Smokehouse” he found didn’t even have a smoker, so he found them the best, taught them to BBQ low and slow, and every year since they have won “Best of Westchester” ribs. One of his greatest satisfactions was the many 2011 weekends spent feeding the Schoharie community, including a Thanksgiving feast, after Hurricane Irene submerged hundreds of homes and businesses. He was thrilled to be of service.
In recent years, Eric found himself battling kidney failure. He fought valiantly and persistently as the kidney failure compromised other organs. Eric was taken suddenly by cardiac arrest early in the morning of Friday the 13th of October. Since that moment, Kristin and Grace have heard over and over how dearly loved Eric was; how his big personality brought light to friends and acquaintances. Eric’s legacy was the positive impact he had on all he touched with his loyalty, wit, the great belly laughs he shared and how mischievous and generous his heart of gold was. His loss creates a void in our universe.
Eric’s legacy lives on through Grace Thompson, his life partner over 26 years, his little sister, Kristin Johnson (Yes, Eric has a little sister!) and her partner, Richard Mohr, aka Thumper (and yes, he is E-approved!); Aunts and Uncles: Walt and Andrea Gleason; Thaddeus and Beverly Ladd; lots of cousins among the Catels, Ladds and Gleasons; as well as those who knew him as Uncle E or Uncle Ben – Jamison, Lindsay, Paul, Josh, Colleen, Connor, and Kion; many cherished friends; and the tightly-knit Voorheesville Class of 77.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Eric’s memory to www.OperationBBQRelief.org, who deploy BBQ teams to natural disasters across the country; or the National Kidney Foundation: www.kidney.org or Court Appointed Special Advocates of New York State: www.casanys.org, the work that introduced Grace to Eric.
Calling hours from 3:00 pm to 7:30 pm Monday, October 23, with a service at 6:00 pm to be hosted at Eric and Grace’s home at 1735 New Scotland Road, Slingerlands, NY 12159. Know that 23 was a very special number to Eric, and certainly he and John Michaels are happily reunited in Heaven, with Eric’s family and so many loved ones enjoying the best BBQ Heaven could imagine!
Free of pain, with Commander at your side, rest in peace, dear E.