Kimberly Johnson holds a photo of her late husband, Roy Ezell Johnson III, who is also shown in the inset photo. The photo of him smoking was taken in North Carolina and now hangs in RL’s Cigar Lounge and Tobacco, s special place he opened as a gathering spot in Thomson after moving back to his hometown.

After being retired from the Marine Corps for several years, Staff Sgt. Roy Ezell “Skeeter” Johnson III made his way back to his hometown of Thomson a little more than two years ago.

Among friends, he also turned to another one his loves — good cigars.

“That was his dream, to come home, and he finally got to come home,” said wife Kimberly Johnson. “The two years he was here, it was like he was growing up all over again.”

Roy Johnson, who had previously owned two cigar shops and managed a third while in North Carolina, opened RJ’s Cigar Lounge and Tobacco in Carriage Lane. He had come home, created a gathering spot for the community, and was back with his childhood friends.

“It was what he looked forward to, he wanted to come back and get involved in the community. He wanted to be a person that could help anyone who needed help,” she said,” said his mother, Dorothy Alexander.

Then COVID-19 came to Thomson, and in February took the life of 50-year-old Johnson.

“He wasn’t sick a day in his life other than a minor cold. He didn’t like to take Tylenol, he didn’t like to take any types of drugs or any types of medicines at all,” his wife Kimberly Johnson said. “He didn’t see that coming. They sent him home with COVID and told him to isolate for seven to 10 days. On the seventh day he passed.”

When he had moved back home he had been surrounded by friends of his youth daily after opening RJ’s Cigar Lounge and Tobacco, which his family and friends say was intended to be a gathering spot for grown ups. They, together, keep the lounge open at least five days a week and sometimes seven days. It has become Johnson’s legacy and his friends keep that alive.

“This is something that we want to keep going. We want a place where you come down to relax, enjoy, and just have a good time,” Alexander added.

Johnson’s wife Kimberly explained how the tight-knit group that supported her husband rallied around her and the family when he died. They also continue his legacy through helping keep RJ’s Cigar Lounge and Tobacco as a gathering spot for the community.

“They surrounded him and after his death they surrounded me,” she said. “They came in here and they kept this place open while COVID was going on. They come in here, sell cigars, smoke, and sit and watch television,” she said.

Chris Norris, a childhood friend who is part of the crew of friends still missing Johnson and keeping his cigar shop open, talks of the great loss to the community when Johnson passed. The two are in the same fraternal organization and became friends decades ago through neighborhood rivalry basketball games.

“He was a really good spirit. When he came here, it just really changed the city for a positive,” Norris explained. “We definitely wasn’t ready for him to leave. When he, unfortunately, transitioned, it put us in a bad space because he was our leader. He came here and reemerged as the leader that the community was needing in order to go in and kind of heal relationships."

Norris said there are some black/white lines within the community and Roy was the one to bring all elements of the community together

“What Roy kind of represent was the person to go in and blend that so we can all come together as a people with the common goal of making Thomson better. We lost a lot”