Today’s Hero Among Us is Johnny Leftwich, owner of Dustin Office Machines and longtime community advocate. He was born in Era, the son of a barber. Johnny started working at his father’s barbershop in Gainesville after school at the age of 12 and shined shoes. This is where many of his influential relationships in Gainesville began, including Ed Alexander of Gainesville National Bank, longtime friends and Era product.
Johnny’s father passed away suddenly when he was just 15. He needed a new job to help him take care of his mother. He was told to go see Mr. Dustin for a job and he did. He would drive from Era in the afternoon and Saturdays to do odd jobs at Dustin’s driving the brand-new 1951 Nash Rambler he inherited from his father.
When Johnny was 16 the gentleman who sold and serviced typewriters at Dustin’s left, and Mr. Dustin said, “Well, I guess you’ll be the typewriter man.” They sent him to Remington training in Dallas for two weeks. He stayed at the YMCA — a young Era boy in the big city.
Change. It came to Dustin’s too. It used to be that school supplies made up the lion’s share of their business. By 2000, they could hardly tell that school had begun as Walmart and others took over this segment’s sales. Office supplies were impacted more by the closure of Southland Paint, their largest client, then by the closure of National Oilwell Supply in the ‘80s. But there was no denying that the other businesses impacted by oil and gas closed or declined. There were many vacant stores on California Street during those times. Dustin’s survived in no small part due to the relationship with the local bank.
After Mr. Dustin’s death in 1962, Mrs. Dustin’s longtime accountant, Paul Campbell, called her in one day with a suggestion – to begin selling a portion of the business to Johnny. By 1984 Johnny was the sole owner and as luck would have it, 1985 was the year of the great fire downtown that destroyed the buildings that were on the lot of Prosperity Bank’s drive-thru west to where Dustin’s is today — 107, 109, 111 and 113 E. California St. Good planning prevailed as the wall and windows on the east side of the building to protect the present building from fire. They had also followed Ed Alexander’s advice to have good fire insurance to cover inventory. And they always had good records of inventory and declared them fully on their tax returns. With this and the fire sale of inventory, they were able to continue business in 1985.
I bet you didn’t know that Johnny has something in common with Tom Hanks — a love for collecting typewriters. He has a collection of old typewriters displayed at Dustin’s including a 1917 model that still works. He is on the hunt for the Adler typewriter that Elvis Dustin gave away at their 50th anniversary celebration in 1982. If you know anything about it, give him a call.
Those who know Johnny know he has a kind word for everyone, always has a word of wisdom to share and that you can’t help but smile when he enters the room. He credits the Baptist Young People’s Union, BYPU, that he started attending in middle school for teaching him how to speak to a crowd. Speech classes in high school and lots of sales seminars helped too. But what about all those Johnnyisms? Well, come to find out he has a great memory and remembers things that other have said throughout the years. They are now part of his repertoire with a few of his own added in for good measure. In his self-deprecating style he notes the surprise some have that he listened over the talking. Ed Alexander told him to have plenty of insurance but when Johnny asked him if he should sell off a piece of his business he was told, “the best time to sell a business is when you have a buyer.” One of the Baptist deacons used to say “when the wheel falls off the wagon you can jump off or find a way to put them back on.” And today when people ask him if he is going to retire he may respond, “I had all my ducks in a row to retire and then Mary Lou (his lovely wife) went shopping.” That one is his.
Most know him best for his 58 years of service to the Gainesville Kiwanis Club whose efforts benefit the children of our community. Johnny was invited to join the Kiwanis by Greaver Ross, a partner in Ross-Allbritton-Nash automobile dealership, located where Phil Adam’s property is now at 100 E. Broadway St. Johnny had shined Mr. Ross’s shoes in his dad’s barbershop. Since that time he has invited countless individuals to join. Some estimate 95% of today’s roster came from his personal recruitment. The Kiwanis Club recognized his value to the community and organization by creating an award in 2012 — The Johnny Leftwich Kiwanian of the Year Award. Most awards of this kind are named as a legacy posthumously. The Kiwanis Club members felt strongly that he should realize how they valued his impact while he was here. Johnny is also a longtime member of The Gideons International, a Christian business and professional men’s association that places Bibles in hotels and schools.
Johnny is a community advocate who has a passion for Gainesville past, present and future. There are a few things he would like to see started during his lifetime. To his way of thinking Leonard Park is the best thing between Dallas and Oklahoma City and we have work to do. He would like to see a long-range plan for the park with elements that connect it to the land on the other side of Elm Creek and to Moffett Park with bridges and walkways. He has a vision for Fairview Cemetery to improve the section markers and improve drainage and curbs. And he has been an advocate for the beautification of downtown, believing that our historic downtown is a jewel that needs to be polished to shine brightly as a key marketing tool to attract visitors to our great city.
“The road to life is not perfect,” he says. Caring for his mom as such a young age after his father passed, and losing a son — there have been struggles to overcome. But as Johnny says, “you can complain when you can’t do anything else.” And they’ll be no complaining from him as he continues work hard and be involved to make a positive impact each and every day.
Debbie Faulkner is an economic development specialist for the Gainesville Economic Development Corp. She is a retired senior executive with ClubCorp after serving 35 years in sales and marketing.