Area tourism official remembered for zest
Leif Johnson, the Grand Valley marketing expert who died during emergency heart surgery Friday, rolled through life like the hub of a great wheel, connecting people and places like spokes to the center.
Johnson, a recruiter for the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, was 60. Survivors include by his wife of 31 years, Pam; his daughter, Britt Daniels; and two grandchildren.
According to Debbie Kovalik, Executive Director of the Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau, Johnson was fond of saying “repetition is reputation.” So it came as no surprise when, on Labor Day, family, friends and business associates repeatedly praised Johnson for his zest for life.
Johnson arrived in Grand Junction as marketing director for the former Adams Mark Hotel, now a DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. Other marketing positions followed, including a lengthy stint as executive director for the Palisade Chamber of Commerce.
“He was bigger than life,” said Barb Bowman, director of sales at Grand Junction Visitor and Convention Bureau. “He really helped put Palisade on the map” by adding more than a dozen events to the Palisade community calendar during his tenure.
“Lots of people in the tourism industry nationwide knew and loved him. He was very well-respected. He was just one of those go-to guys,” Bowman said.
“Professionally, Leif had the uncanny ability to create partnerships,” Kovalik said “That’s how he benefitted every community that he worked at.”
Johnson succeeded in the tourism industry despite a lack of formal training in marketing, Pam Johnson said.
“He loved telling people about the places he loved. He would want to take them and show them and tell them where to go and what to see. He was a natural-born tour guide. It just kind of came naturally to him,” Johnson said.
“The way he connected people was really unbelievable,” said Michael Dean Smith, President of the Board of Plateau Restoration Conservation, a nonprofit headquartered in Moab, Utah.
“He was probably one of the most loved human beings you’ll ever meet on the face of the earth,” said Geoff Webster, a civil engineer from Boston who met Johnson while working at the Grand Canyon in 1975.
Proud of his Swedish heritage, Johnson often spoke of the strength of the ancient Vikings and their adventurous spirit, Pam Johnson said. That heritage and an upbringing that included many hikes through the forests of Michigan may explain his love for geology and the outdoors.
An avid river rafter, Johnson journeyed down the Colorado, Green, Dolores, San Miguel and Salt rivers, often accompanied by his golden retriever, Flicka, Smith said.
He also hiked hundreds of miles around the Grand Canyon, where he married his wife in 1982, his friend, Jim Harris of Grand Junction, said.
“He was like a bull,” Harris said. “Physically, he was strong, didn’t feel pain, didn’t feel cold, didn’t feel wet. He was always positive.”
“Dad never knew a stranger,” said his daughter, Britt Daniels. “He was everybody’s best friend.”