PHIL JOHNSON: From Broadcaster to Barista

You may know him as the voice of AM1150, starting your day with in-depth coverage and local perspective on the hottest news stories from the Bell Media studios on Bernard Ave. But for the past year, Phil Johnson, the 68-year-old, larger-than-life radio veteran has taken on a new role; and maybe the most important of his life.

Phil’s life-changing decision to give back through volunteering came after a recent health scare. Three years ago, he was admitted to Kelowna General Hospital and, after extensive testing, diagnosed with Lupus, an autoimmune disease that was attacking his kidneys. In the months following his diagnosis and treatment, he found himself at the annual Volunteer Fair held at Parkinson Rec Centre, covering the event as part of his radio reporting duties.

“I didn’t know it at the time,” said Phil. “But I wanted to do something more. So I’m looking for stories, and who is sitting at a table, but Nancy Wells, manager of the volunteer businesses at KGH, who I knew from interviewing in the past. And she looked at me and said, Phil, why aren’t you working for me? I said, I don’t know, I never thought of it!”

Within weeks, Phil was serving his first cup of specialty coffee at the Perking Lot, one of four volunteer venues supported by the KGH & Rutland Auxiliaries and run under the KGH Foundation umbrella, which cumulatively raise approximately $1 million each year. He now maintains a regular four-hour shift, which he completes every Tuesday after his radio show.

“This is as good for my soul as anything I do on the radio. This place is now a part of my story. And I get to connect with doctors and nurses who I recognize and maybe I give them an extra flavour shot in their coffee,” he says with a wink. “But they are a part of me now and I have a chance to give back. It’s the best four hours of my week and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

What began as an opportunity to give back towards a team of health care professionals in gratitude for the care he received quickly became a journey down a path to a new, more perceptive, more intuitive and empathetic Phil.

“In truth, I didn’t know this Phil was as close to the surface as he is today. I hug my kid more, I call my friends who I haven’t talked to in a while, I serve coffees to complete strangers and I look at them and I know what they’re going through. People who work at the Perking Lot see birth, death, sadness, joy, everything that happens in this city. If there was a gift that I’ve gained – my intuition, my spidey-sense, a better understanding of the human condition. It’s so profoundly impacted my life and the lives of those around me in such a positive way.”