Mimi Johnson, a compassionate and dynamic Ukiah-area cancer-patient advocate who helped hundreds of sick people navigate the medical system, died at home Wednesday, April 2 of the disease she had battled at work and in her private life. She was 68 years old.
"Mimi has been a shining light and tireless advocate for her clients. She has inspired us all," said Sara O'Donnell, director of the Cancer Resource Centers of Mendocino County. Johnson worked in the Centers' Ukiah office for 16 years, the first five as a volunteer.
She helped cancer patients negotiate the medical system, including attending their doctor visits to help them understand their illness and their treatment choices. She was gentle and kind but her compassion was fierce while fighting for her clients, O'Donnell said.
Johnson extended the same devotion to her family and friends.
"She had a great big heart," said longtime friend Joyce Harrington.
Johnson was born March 3, 1946 in Chicago. She was adopted by John and Alice McCarthy, who named her Mary Margaret, family said.
She graduated from Nazareth Academy High School in 1964. An adventurous, free-spirited young woman, Johnson soon took off to explore the world, traveling to tropical islands and Europe and briefly living in Florida before heading to California in the early 1970s. She lived in Mountain View before moving to Mendocino County, where she bought land and built a home with vast views of the mountains and valleys between Ukiah and Mendocino.
Johnson, effervescent and efficient at the same time, worked at the now-shuttered historic Palace Hotel from 1978 to 1982, managing music acts and advertising for the hotel's busy Back Door Nightclub, according to her husband, Doug Johnson.
The couple met at the Palace Hotel. They married in 1983 and operated The Video Place in Redwood Valley from 1985 to 2011, he said.
Their son Devon was born in 1990.
Mimi Johnson became involved with the Cancer Resource Centers after she was diagnosed with a particularly virulent form of breast cancer 18 years ago. She was given little hope of survival, but she was determined to see her young son to adulthood and refused to give up, friends said.
Johnson was ever grateful that she was able to fulfill that wish, they said.
Johnson also was determined to live her own life to its fullest. She loved dancing, going on long walks, discovering hidden treasures at thrift stores, reading vampire and science fiction books and having tea with friends, Doug Johnson said. She was an enthusiastic 49ers fan who would leap from her chair during televised games.
She traveled as often as she could, with tropical beaches being among her favorite places. Her last major trip was a cruise to Europe with her husband and son in 2013. She had planned a family trip to Hawaii this month.
In addition to her husband and son, Johnson is survived by sister Jan Curtis, of North Carolina and brothers Jack McCann and Michael McCann, of Illinois.
The Cancer Resource Centers will host a tea in her honor from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. April 18 at the Ukiah office where she worked, 590 South Dora Street.
Donations may be made in her name to the Cancer Resource Centers.