CORNWALL, Ontario – The best thing you can say about a bartender is that they’re a good listener – and to his friends and customers Ronnie Johnson was all that and more.
The beloved Cornwall bartender who spent years at popular watering holes like the Lloyd George Hotel, Winners, the Captain’s Inn and Rangatangs passed away earlier this week at the age of 65.
The shock of his passing is continuing to reverberate among many of the people he touched over the years.
“Ronnie was such a well-read man,” said Mort Belmore, another longtime Cornwall bartender who operates Quinn’s Inn in St. Andrew and worked alongside Johnson for years at different establishments in the city. “He knew his sports and he was a good bartender.”
The duo got their start together at the Lloyd George back in 1969, said Belmore.
Bordie Harrington, who played college hockey with Johnson in the late 1960s, said his friend’s knowledge of sports would put most experts to shame.
“We would sit at Winner’s and someone would ask a question and he would have the answer,” recalls Harrington. “And if he didn’t, he had a book under the bar with the answer.
“He could have gone on TV on one of those shows and done very well.”
Both men agree Johnson was also a great person to talk to when the chips were down.
“We’re known as psychiatrists a little bit,” said Belmore. “It’s just one of those things – we’re there to listen and help people.”
Johnson was also known as a pretty good cook – pizza, in particular.
“He wouldn’t tell us the recipe of the sauce,” Harrington said with a laugh, adding Johnson spent time cooking pizzas for Zappia’s Restaurant in Cornwall. “He could make pizzas as good as Mama and Papa Zappia.”
His love of talking sports was equalled by his affection for getting out on the hockey rink back in the day, or the golf course.
“We played a lot of golf together,” said Belmore. “And we organized so many sports trips. Football, baseball…”
But his ability to serve drinks and kibitz with his customers is what Johnson will be most remembered for. If you’ve had a few beers in Cornwall over the year, there’s a good chance Johnson poured at least one of them.
“You could go in, and maybe be a little bit down,” said Harrington. “And he would pick you right up.
“He was unbelievable – he really was. I’m going to miss him.”
Johnson is survived by his son Scott, a golf pro from Ottawa. Funeral arrangements have not yet been confirmed.