A Johnson County resident who served the Prestonsburg Fire Department and the Van Lear Volunteer Fire Department for nearly 50 years died recently.
Johnny Henry Shepherd, 65, of Van Lear, died on Sunday, Dec. 29, from an ongoing medical condition, the Prestonsburg Fire Department reported.
Shepherd had served as a volunteer firefighter for both the Prestonsburg and Van Lear fire departments since 1972.
A disabled coal miner, he also refereed football for 26 years for the 15th Regional Kentucky High School Athletic Association in addition to his service on the fire departments.
“Johnny, he was a great guy. He was one of those guys that you just absolutely, you loved seeing him come around,” Prestonsburg Fire Chief Michael Brown said. “He was always in good spirits. He never had anything negative to say or a bad attitude. He was just, he was one of those guys who was uplifting to you.”
He said Shepherd volunteered during his entire firefighting career. This July, Shepherd would have celebrated his 47th year as a firefighter in Prestonsburg, Brown said.
“Johnny’s been a volunteer his entire firefighting career. He’s been with the Prestonsburg Fire Department for 46 years. That, in itself tells you the heart and the dedication he had to not only the fire service, but to the communities he served and protected,” Brown said.
He described Shepherd as quiet and reserved, saying that he loved to fish and cook.
He said Shepherd loved serving. When asked what he’d like the public to know about who Shepherd was, Brown said, “Just the love that he had for his family and the love that he had for us. He was always willing to do whatever was needed. There was never a time that he came in, and if we had a detail going on, that he said, ‘Chief, this is what I want to do.’ He would always say, ‘Chief, whatever you need me to do.’ It didn’t matter what it was. Just the heart that the man had, to volunteer, not only at Prestonsburg, but at Van Lear. He is spreading his time at multiple departments for multiple communities. Just the dedication and love that that man had for this profession and for his communities.
He said his death has been tough on the department.
“Anytime you lose someone, it’s just a huge dark cloud and a void,” Brown said. “Johnny was always, he was just always one of those guys that brightened a bad day, and then if you were having a good day, he just always made it better for you. He was always uplifting and just always positive. I can compare him to Ronnie Burke, who we lost a couple of years ago. Ronnie was the same way. With the loss of the two of these guys, we lost some big mentors ... They just made things better and you could always count on them to make things better.”
Brown, who also serves as assistant chief at the Belfry Volunteer Fire Department in Pike County, learned of Shepherd’s death on the day he was visiting family members of James Earl Williams, 54, the president and captain of the Belfry Volunteer Fire Department and Pike County Sheriff Deputy who died on Dec. 28.
“We had at Belfry, during that time of that loss, we had Pikeville Fire Department that reached out and helped. We had Middle Creek Fire Department that came over and helped. We had multiple different departments, and now that we’re having this here at our own department, it’s not just us, it’s the brotherhood of those other departments who are saying we’re going to come and cover your calls that way you guys can reflect and honor and respect your fallen brother. We’ll take care of any issues you have going on or anything that you need,” Brown said. “Just that in itself tells you a little bit about what the brotherhood is. It’s not just individual fire departments. It is a whole.”
Shepherd is survived by his son, John (Kelly) Shepherd of Van Lear, daughter Jody Shepherd of South Carolina and other family members and friends.
A memorial service was held on Jan. 2 at the Mountain Arts Center under the direction of Nelson Frazier Funeral Home.