Gloria Johnson collapses in store; bystanders come to her rescue

Betty BeanKnox Scene, North Knoxville

Michael Knott says his wife Mandy noticed her first. Mandy said that something wasn’t right with the woman who’d just walked through the front door at TJ Maxx at 8:30 Saturday night. She looked like she was in trouble.

“It was kind of a serendipitous moment. We hadn’t even planned to go shopping that day, and I was about ready to turn my brain off and go home and go to bed” Michael said. “But we saw her struggling, and by the time she got to the first aisle, she stumbled.”

Gloria Johnson’s rescuers, Mandy and Michael Knott

Michael works in the pharmaceutical industry and is more knowledgeable about medical issues than the average person. He approached the woman, who was very tall and looked familiar. She managed to say, “Call, call…” before she told him she needed to sit down. He called 911, helped her get to a chair and talked to the dispatcher. She sat down and slumped over her shopping cart. He worried that it was going to roll away under her.

He noticed that a crowd was starting to gather, but nobody else offered to help.

As he spoke to the dispatcher, he saw her skin turning deathly pale and getting clammy. She started shivering, but managed to dial her mother’s number with one touch. She handed her phone to him, and he told her mother that an ambulance was on the way and would be taking her to UT Medical Center.

She asked him to stay on the phone with her and said her daughter’s name was Gloria.

A store employee finally asked if they needed help, and the dispatcher said to see if anybody had a low-dose aspirin tablet to give her. Nobody did, but the store manager told somebody to get some damp washcloths. The dispatcher told them not to give her anything to drink. The battery on her phone started fading.

Michael started using his phone and recalls being shocked that so many people were standing around watching the action and not volunteering to help.

He heard the name Gloria and asked if she was a school board member. She told him that she’s a state representative. At that point he knew that he was talking to the Gloria Johnson, a former special education teacher who is one of the most outspoken members of the General Assembly.

House Democrats are outnumbered 73-26 by Republicans, who have been increasingly brutal in their treatment of Johnson, who is medically fragile. She suffered both a heart attack and a stroke while she was teaching at Central High School, and last session she navigated the halls of the Legislative Plaza on a doctor-prescribed scooter.

Several years ago, former House Speaker Glen Casada refused to recognize her on the House floor, so she stood for an hour with her arm in the air. A couple of years later the Republican majority assigned her a broom closet-sized room as her office even though a standard-sized member’s office stood empty across the hall.

They messed with her bills, and even hijacked one of her education bills and attached it to a piece of ultra-conservative legislation as an amendment. It was a two-fer. They took credit for her work and pleasure from turning her bill into something she couldn’t even vote for.

But they outdid themselves this year with redistricting. By law, legislators redraw district lines every 10 years, after the census numbers come in. This is one of those years.

And House Republicans took the opportunity to remove Johnson from her primarily North Knoxville District 13, where she is popular. In fact, they blew up the 13th and replaced it with something called District 90, which stretches deep into Republican-dominated West and South Knoxville. They accomplished this by moving the northern boundary of Sam McKenzie’s District 15 – which includes almost all of East Knoxville – all the way up to North Hills for the obvious purpose of gobbling up the house where Johnson has lived since the late 1990s.

In short, they exterminated her district and threw her into the 15th in hopes that she and McKenzie would fight it out.

But Johnson refused to comply and started looking for a place to live in District 90. She found a tenant to live in her home and she sweated it out last week, boxing up her stuff and moving it into a small rental house on North Fourth Avenue, about a mile west. It was hot and humid, and although she has had some volunteer help, she has been working herself into exhaustion. She is also swinging into campaign mode and worries about falling behind on fund raising because the session lasted longer than usual this year.

Anybody watching the way Johnson has been treated by the GOP majority should be asking why they are so determined to keep their boot on her neck.

Sure, she’s a thorn in their sides, and is quick to blow the whistle on their machinations, but is trying to own Gloria Johnson worth it? They have a super-majority and get to do anything they want to do, regardless of what Johnson says or does.

But they are relentless and seem bent on destroying her. Perhaps there’s a secret prize for whoever rids the House of this troublesome woman.

She was released from the hospital shortly after 5 a.m. Sunday (5/22). She hasn’t seen her cardiologist yet, but the tentative diagnosis was a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or mini-stroke, probably brought on by the pressures of campaigning during this early heat wave, worries about early fund raising plus the stress of moving her belongings into the rental house in the sketchy neighborhood where she is now forced to live if she wants to continue serving her constituents (she points out that she will really live there, unlike some Republicans who pretend to live inside the districts they represent).

She will turn 60 in a few days, so she’s not yet old enough yet to collect the Social Security benefits she has earned. She does receive a $1,200 per month pension as a retired teacher, and that, plus her legislative salary, is what she lives on.

Although some of her republican colleagues will publicly wish her well and send thoughts and prayers for her health, they’ll not spend a hot second considering the toll their political shenanigans have taken on her health.

But none of that was going through Michael Knott’s mind when Mandy pointed out a woman in trouble Saturday night at TJ Maxx.

“I just happened to be there, on the spot,” he said. “I’m glad we got to her quickly and I’m glad we could help her – even though I’m a conservative Republican.”

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.

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