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Johnnie Lee Downing

Thursday, October 15, 2020
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Johnnie Lee Downing, also known as “John” and “JL” by his friends and family, passed quietly in his home on October 10th surrounded by family.

Johnnie was born in Meadow, Texas in 1928. He grew up in the dustbowl of West Texas during the Great Depression, at one point living in a town called Needmore. The son of sharecroppers, he worked in the cotton fields as a young boy. In those days, it was not uncommon for schools to close so children could help bring in the crops. When Johnnie was three, he and his loving older sister Louise were playing hide and seek, and he got stuck in a butter churn. Unable to get him out, his father took an axe to it and broke the churn. Little Johnnie was upset. “What’s wrong?” asked his parents. Johnnie replied through his tears, “Now there’s not gonna be no more butter!”

After his father was injured in a near fatal car accident, Johnnie stepped up to help the family. In that same accident, his friend Bill Bynum would become an orphan and Johnnie’s parents, L.C. and Loyle, took him in. Johnnie and Bill would be lifelong brothers and friends.

Brave and adventurous as a boy, he once drove a tractor at age seven from one town to another and even helped clear over a hundred acres of mesquite and brush-covered land by hand so cotton could be planted. This land would be Downing land, not someone else’s they had to work. When asked about these difficult days, he said simply, “We were happy, we didn’t know we didn’t have anything”.

Friendly and charming, he was popular in school and a fine tennis player even though he did not have a pair of shorts he played in jeans. He was Vice President of his Senior Class and graduated from Andrews High School in 1947. He joined the Army during the Korean War and was stationed at Ft. Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma. Although never engaging in combat, he lost a part of his hearing during a training exercise involving crawling under barbed wire while shots were being fired above his head.

When he returned to Andrews, he “doodle bugged” for a few years (A doodle bugger is an oil prospector who uses different methods to search out oil deposits. They liken it to a water diviner in some places.) He was hired by Shell Oil where he worked for 35 years as a lease operator and he married LaNell Downing in 1958.

Johnnie and LaNell were married for 58 years and had three children. During this time, Johnnie worked in the oil fields from seven in the morning to four in the afternoon. Then he would come home, change into his overalls and get on the tractor to plow and move irrigation pipes on his farm. He would do this all by himself by picking up the pipe in the middle, popping the latch with a skilled turn of his hand, then unlatching the other end and walking it forward eight rows. He would then latch the pipe again and repeat this process many times. Then he would come in, shower and go sit with his father at the nursing home until long after dark.

He worked weekends and holidays, including Christmas. He worked the farm by himself, growing cotton and his famous black-eyed peas, which he allowed folks from town to pick for free. He also nurtured bountiful pecan trees that he adored and would spend hours shelling the delicious pecans. He worked the farm into his early eighties. He sent all his children to college and paid for everything in cash. He could do math in his head and had beautiful cursive handwriting. He loved Johnny Carson and Johnny Cash.

Johnnie loved to go hunting and fishing with his sons, Greg and Danny, and his grandsons, Logan, Carson, Jake and Rusty. Bill would accompany them often and talks around the fire would be treasured memories for them all. In later years Johnnie would make biscuits and gravy for breakfast more than he would hunt but somebody had to be “cookie”.

He was generous and kind and gave his time to be a greeter and usher at Means Memorial United Methodist Church where he was at one time the longest living member. He was also a member of The Oddfellows charitable organization for many years. He was a hugger and a hand shaker. He was a joker and a praying man. Johnnie was accepting of people who had different backgrounds and beliefs than his own. He was open minded and thoughtful. He is someone admired by all those who met him, may his memory be a blessing.

He is survived by his children, Danny Downing, Greg Downing and Debra Downing, by their loving partners, Linda Downing, Jenifer Anderson and Peter Grosz and by his grandchildren, Logan, Carson, Jake, Rusty and Abraham.

Family and friends will gather to celebrate his life at 10 AM on Saturday, October 17, 2020 at the Means Memorial United Methodist Church in Andrews with Rev. Rick Doyle officiating. Interment will follow in the Andrews West Cemetery. The family will receive friends from 6:00 to 8:00 PM on Friday at the funeral home.

In lieu of flowers donations can be made to Hope Hospice at or AGE of Central Texas at