If Taro Johnson could not be found cooking around the grill, cheering for the Los Angeles Lakers, or spending time with volunteer groups, he loved spending time with his family.
Those memories will live on in the minds of Johnson’s family as they mourn the loss of the 61-year-old man, who became the third person in McLennan County to die from COVID-19.
Johnson was found dead in his West Waco apartment last Wednesday after family could not get in touch with him, Johnson’s ex-wife Brenda Johnson said Monday. Her ex-husband had reportedly been sick, but he did not tell Brenda Johnson that he was suffering from upper respiratory illness and a fever.
“I think he started getting sick last Thursday, but when I had talked to him about a week before, he sounded fine,” Brenda Johnson said. “From Thursday on, his brother Clifton had been talking to him and he said he was getting progressively sicker.”
Brenda Johnson, who was married to Taro Johnson for 19 years, said he saw a doctor through a teleconference call the week before he died. He was prescribed medicine, but not a COVID-19 test.
He followed up with another teleconference call a few days later, she said.
“He decided not to go to the emergency room, because I think he thought he’d come out of it, I suppose,” Brenda Johnson said. “We hadn’t seen him for about a month, because our church had gone to a teleconference call worship, but everything did happen so fast.”
According to the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District and the city of Waco, three people have died in McLennan County from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. One new case was reported Monday, bringing the total number of local cases to 72, with 40 patients listed as recovered. The number of people being monitored by the health district jumped from 71 to 93 on Monday.
A postmortem test was performed on Taro Johnson. Justice of the Peace Dianne Hensley ordered an autopsy to be conducted by American Forensics, a private lab in Mesquite. Hensley said the man’s body tested positive for coronavirus and McLennan County officials and Waco police were notified Sunday.
The first McLennan County resident to die from causes related to COVID-19 was G.W. Carver Middle School Principal Phillip Perry, 49, on March 31. Perry reportedly had underlying health conditions. The second person to die was a 69-year-old man with underlying health conditions. He died at a local hospital April 9.
Taro Johnson had a bad cough for a couple of weeks, according to his brother. He had not traveled out of the country and the family does not know what may have led to the illness, according to Brenda Johnson.
“It is shocking, to say the least,” Brenda Johnson said.
The couple’s two children, 22-year-old Alexus Johnson and 20-year-old son Taro Johnson III, are mourning the loss.
“My dad worked for Sears for 25 years, he really enjoyed his job and being around people,” Alexus Johnson said. “In his free time he loved to cook and grill, and you could always find him laughing with his camera around his neck.”
Photography was one of his hobbies, his daughter said.
According to family members, Taro Johnson was the director of the Overcomers Group at Hood Street Church of Christ and volunteered at Shepherd’s Heart Food Pantry passing out food. He was the office manager and treasurer of the Central Texas Fellowship of congregations as well.
“He did a lot for a lot of people in the church and in the community,” Alexus Johnson said. “I’m going to miss him a lot. He was my dad, you know?”
Shepherd’s Heart executive director Robert Gager said Taro Johnson began volunteering at the food pantry 11 years ago. Gager said he had not seen him for about two weeks as a volunteer and the news of his death shocked him.
“When we first started, I had people, but I didn’t have any volunteers so I went out and I just asked people to help. Taro was one of the first people to help,” Gager said. “I think he just got hooked and people just liked him. If you met him one time, you instantly liked him. I know a lot of people are going to miss him.”