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Longtime Oakland County state lawmaker Shirley Johnson dies

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

Troy — Shirley Johnson, a former Republican lawmaker from Royal Oak, has died, friends said Thursday.

Johnson, 83, served from 1999 to 2006 as the state senator in the 13th District, which includes Royal Oak. She served in the House of Representatives from 1981-98.

Shirley Johnson

She is survived by sons Cliff Jr. and Garrett. They could not be reached for comment Thursday. She was predeceased by her husband, Cliff.

Johnson attended Wayne State University, Oakland Community College and graduated from Michigan State University. She developed a reputation as a hard-working legislator who wouldn't shy away from big jobs or issues.

Former Michigan Gov. John Engler said: “Shirley was a dear friend to Michelle, our daughters and me. The girls enjoyed spending time with her at the Governor’s residence and at Mackinac Island.  

"I knew Shirley as an effective lawmaker and a leader who mastered the appropriations process eventually becoming chair of the committee. Shirley was passionate about mental health issues and her beloved Oakland County but her abilities allowed her (to) become a budget expert who worked across the aisle to find solutions to some of our toughest challenges. Shirley’s legacy of service will endure forever.”

Andrew Prentice, a former Royal Oak city commissioner, described Johnson as his mentor.

“Shirley was everything to me,” said Prentice, who worked as an intern and page for Johnson for several years before running for office himself.

“Her advice to me was first, to find out what it would take to get elected and two, go out and do it,” Prentice said. “She knocked on every door in her district every election and told me that if I wasn’t prepared to do that to find out what the voters wanted, then I had no business running for the office.”

Prentice said the night he won his commission seat he looked down at his wingtips, which were battered from going door-to-door, and told Johnson he had to go home and change his shoes before going to a victory party.

"She said 'Keep those shoes on and also proudly wear them to your first meeting.'" Prentice said.

Jeanne Chamberlain, former head of the Republican Party office in Royal Oak, recalled Johnson dropping by the office in the 1970s out of curiosity. 

“I helped her get her start in politics,” said Chamberlain. “Shirley walked into the office one day and we started talking and she wanted to get involved as a volunteer. That was her first taste of politics.”

Former Royal Oak city attorney and commissioner Charles Semchena recalled Johnson leading an effort to pass legislation in Lansing to help cities combine their efforts in waste hauling contracts.

“She was very helpful to us and others in her district,” said Semchena.

Funeral arrangements were unavailable Thursday.

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