Former Marvin Center night manager remembered for wit, work ethic

Media Credit: Photo courtesy of Pierre Johnson

Zak Johnson holds his dog, Stefanie.

When the doors of the Marvin Center closed for the night, Zak Johnson would stay to manage the building until the start of daylight.

Media Credit: Photo courtesy of Pierre Johnson
Zak Johnson holds his dog, Stefanie.

Then he returned to a house strewn with stuffed hippos, autographed posters and souvenirs he collected from years of overseeing campus events and chauffeuring celebrities around Foggy Bottom.

Zacchaeus “Zak” Boyd Johnson, Jr., who spent nearly three decades at GW, died from stomach cancer on Valentine’s Day at GW Hospital. He was 65.

He was remembered by his friends and relatives this week as a pleasant, energetic man who loved his work and was always smiling and laughing.

“Everybody liked him. He was something,” his brother, Pierre Johnson, said after a celebration of his life Monday. “He was just an amazing guy to everybody.”

Zak Johnson’s cousin, the Rev. Walter Pettiford, led the service at the Jack Morton Auditorium, across the street from the Marvin Center, where Johnson led preparations for hundreds of events from Midnight Breakfast to student organization meetings. He requested in his will that his services be held at GW.

The first to serve as the Marvin Center’s night manager, Johnson retired in October 2006.

“People ask me how can I come in at night and do the same thing over and over. Well, if it were the same thing, I wouldn’t be able to do it. Every night is different,” Johnson told The Hatchet in 2005.

After working overnight in the Marvin Center, he would chauffeur campus guests such as Robin Williams, Ray Charles and Jay Leno. Johnson was also the full-time driver for two former Virginia governors, and occasionally chauffeured former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.

Johnson grew up in the District and attended D.C. public schools, was heavily involved in church programs and graduated with ROTC honors from Western High School in 1966. He then attended Pepperdine University in California.

Johnson drove limousines up to the last week of his life, his brother said. After he had his stomach removed in 2012, Johnson would ease back on medication to be able to drive.

“He dealt with the pain to drive that car,” Pierre Johnson said, adding that his brother even had an appointment with a client scheduled the day he died.

After his surgery, doctors expected Zak Johnson to live for three more months, but he went on to live another year and a half.

Johnson was described as a “free spirit” who “engaged life in its fullest.” He is survived by brothers Waldo W.N., Pierre and Ephraim, and sisters Lillian and Lisa, as well as his uncle, nieces, nephews and cousins.

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