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Swimming community mourning Johns’ passing

By Don Fennell

Published 10:46 PDT, Fri October 30, 2020

Last Updated: 10:47 PDT, Fri October 30, 2020

She was perhaps best known as mom to two of BC’s top swimmers, but left an indelible mark of her own on the sport and those fortunate enough to know her.

Barbara Johns, mother of Brian and Kevin and wife to Lawrie, passed away peacefully Oct. 24. She was 72.

Johns was a pillar of the swimming community. And that’s an understatement. Conservatively, she officiated at some 300 meets, and spent another 600 days (the equivalent of two years) on deck—loving every minute. 

Sports—swimming in particular—were a passion. Like family, she poured everything into sports.

Swim BC executive director Ken Radford remembered Johns fondly, and as “a valued member of the swimming family.”

“It is with great sadness that we inform the swimming community, and in particular the officiating fraternity and parents of national team members, of the passing,” he said.

From the 1980s onward, Johns supported her sons’ love for swimming, and their emerging talents in the pool, unconditionally. That extended through to Brian ultimately reaching the Olympics where he represented Canada proudly at multiple Games. But it was at the grassroots, where the efforts and dedication of volunteers perhaps mattered most, that Johns stood out. She mastered every position on deck, noted Radford, while particularly excelling at clerking and refereeing. And she enthusiastically shared her knowledge, presenting clinic for every officiating position throughout her career.

As a result of Johns’ commitment to officiating, she was able to follow her sons to their meets in the Lower Mainland, across the province, throughout the country and, eventually, at international level competitions such as the Pan Pacific Championships. She had a strong desire to do more at the international level, but unfortunately age restrictions placed by FINA at the time prevented her from doing so.

Johns was very proud of her sons’ accomplishments in the water, as they both were medalists at the national level and have been inducted into the UBC Sports Hall of Fame. In 2003, Barbara served as the referee at the CIS (now USports) Nationals where Brian broke the 400 individual medley short course world record. As the referee, she signed the world record application for her son’s performance, a very unique and proud moment for Barbara during her time as an official.

Johns was also a behind-the-scenes activist for C-SPOT (Canadian Swim Parents Organizing Themselves), an organization formed to help the parents of national team swimmers to attend the international meets that their children were competing at. Due to the success of this activism, Swimming Canada took over the many of the tasks started by C-SPOT in order to help parents more easily attend the international competitions of their children. 

This helped Johns connect many swim parents together and help form lifelong friendships that stretched far beyond the pool deck.

Johns’ family says the only thing that superseded her love for swimming and officiating was her love for her three, soon to be four, granddaughters; a full Johns relay team for her to continue her love for the sport.

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