"The Dean of Table Tennis", Dean Robert Johnson – A Close Up

INTERVIEW BY LEE BELOTE, CORRESPONDENT, March 2015

 

Pingpong has been far more than exercise or sport for Johnson. “Everything in my life has come about because of table tennis.”

 

Dean Johnson, “The Dean of Table Tennis”, holding his hard bat paddle signed by Marty Reisman

 

IN THE SPRING of 1957, Oceanfront resident Dean Johnson purchased a book called “Thumbnail Sketches of the World’s Best,” from a Manhattan bookstore.

 

The small investment of $1.25 changed Johnson’s life forever. The book, which highlighted accomplished table tennis players, inspired Johnson to seek out the world famous players at a dingy basement club in New York City.

 

He was enamored by the furious action on the court, the speed of play and the graceful movements of some of the country’s best competitors. When he left the club at 3 a.m., he was hooked on the sport of table tennis forever.

 

“Everything in my life has come about because of table tennis,” Johnson said. “It’s had a huge impact on my life.”

 

He added that he has made business contacts and more importantly met his wife, Helga, at a Canadian table tennis tournament in 1962. The couple celebrated their 50th anniversary last year.

 

Back in the 1960s, Johnson’s priority was to practice hard and to focus on national ranking. Now, he plays for exercise, brain fitness and an outlet. “I give little thought to records, “ he said.

 

Most recently, Johnson won the National Doubles Championship and ranks top 10 in the country for his age bracket.

 

“Dean knows the sport of table tennis. Period,” said Ken Lees, founder and president of the Table Tennis Charity Foundation. “He is a winner on the pingpong table, like he is in life.”

 

What do you enjoy most about what you do? Setting a goal and reaching it

 

Who or what inspires you? My wife, Helga

 

If a snapshot was taken of your perfect day, what would it look like in two words? Something Achieved

 

Favorite movie: “As Good As it Gets”

 

Pet peeve: Being interrupted when I speak, and someone intruding in my conversations

 

Hobbies: Photography, family history

 

Best/worst job: I never had a job I didn’t like, because I always loved what I did.

 

Favorite Virginia Beach spot: My home

 

Of what achievements are you most proud? Operating a marketing communications business successfully for more than 40 years

 

When did you first play pingpong? In my neighbor’s basement in the 1940s

 

Is there anyone that you would like to play in table tennis that you have not played already? Bjorn Borg

 

What is your secret to your table tennis success? I have not yet found a secret; I’m still learning.

 

Anything unique about your pingpong paddle? The blade and handle were made in the 1960s by a master craftsman, Bernard Hock. It was assembled and signed by a friend and world class player, Marty Reisman.

 

What was your most memorable tournament? April 1961 New Jersey State Championships defeating nine-time New Jersey State singles champion and winner of 30 consecutive matches in league play Bill Cross.

 

Something you’ve done that others might not expect of you: I was an underachiever in high school so I don’t think anyone ever expected me to do much, except my mother. She wrote in my high school yearbook “May all the good things in life be yours,” and they are.

 

What is your good luck charm? Hard work. The harder you work the luckier you get.

 

What is your personal motto? Keep the Faith

 

Favorite sport? Table tennis

 

If you could choose a theme song, what would it be? “Looks Like We’ve Made It”

 

How long have you been playing table tennis? As a sport for 58 years

 

Last book you have read: “Quantum Healing”

 

Words of wisdom you’d share with someone interested in doing what you do: Find balance – in your family life, social life, spiritual life, in physical activity and in your work. Love what you do, and you won’t work a day in your life; and always hit a ball from a balanced position!

 

BIO

Full name Dean Robert Johnson

Neighborhood Linkhorn Park

Hometown Clifton, New Jersey

Age 83

Nickname Bob

Marital status Helga; 50 years

Children Eric, 48; Karen, 46; Kristina, 43

Occupation Marketing Communications

Education Fairleigh Dickinson University

Community service Board member, Table Tennis Charity Foundation

Church affiliation Protestant

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