Community Commentary: Citizen of the Year honor overwhelming

Last Thursday was an interesting day.

Bill Ficker had called me and invited me to lunch.

Was it a surprise? No, actually.

Bill and I get together every six to nine months and sit down at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club and discuss events and things happening around town.

This particular day I had no idea about what our luncheon topic included. But as I arrived at the NHYC I actually thought how lucky I was to have an audience with perhaps America's greatest sailor.

Ficker, for those of you who don't know, guided the Intrepid to the America's Cup title in 1970.

I found Ficker in the lobby of NHYC and we walked down the hallway. We turned right into the main dining room, and I saw Seymour Beek, a longtime friend, in a back room at an "I don't know" luncheon meeting.

I waved to Seymour.

Moments later I realized we were actually heading into that room and upon that entry realized that I was "the Newport Beach Citizen of the Year."

My first stunned reaction was to go around and shake hands of the previous honorees: Marian Bergeson, Lucille Kuehn, Paul Salata, Bob Robins, Norm Loats, Dennis O'Neil, Pete Barrett, Bob Wynn … the list went on-and-on.

I sat there in my seat and thought to myself, "Why me?"

The real back story is this: for 17 years I was honored to be the publisher of the Daily Pilot. From the helm I oversaw some tremendous teammates, including: Bill Lobdell, Lana Johnson, Tony Dodero, Steve Marble, Roger Carlson, Rich Dunn and Lisa Cosenza.

Jeff Johnson, no relation, who was publisher of the Los Angeles Times, was my greatest advocate.

In all honesty, I loved what we could do with this community. Sponsoring events, promoting results, writing news briefs to make events successful. It was all of our life 24/7.

Looking back, I wish it would have never ended.

Then, last year I joined with a group led by Allan Simon to start another newspaper in town.

What was always at the forefront of my mind was, what can me and my team do to make Newport Beach better?

My loves, Hoag Hospital, the Newport Harbor Boys and Girls Club, Costa Mesa United, CM900, the Orange County Youth Sports Foundation, the list is endless.

At the end of the day, my employers at the Los Angeles Times/Daily Pilot and Allan Simon made my accomplishments possible.

I thank them and the community for letting me be a part of it all. It's been a blast.

The notes that have come in since are all very complimentary. But at the end of the day, I realize that I was just the guy that got to run a bunch of great people who worked hard to make Newport Beach better.

Today, I thank them all.

TOM JOHNSON is a Newport Beach resident and the former publisher of the Daily Pilot and Newport Beach Independent.

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