Murriel Johnson, 71, repairman


Murriel Johnson never had formal lessons in small appliance repairs. He never had an assistant at his East Baltimore shop, or felt the need to advertise.

But Mr. Johnson, 71, who died Friday of cardiac arrest at Bon Secours Hospital, had a lengthy list of satisfied clients, nonstop callers asking for free advice, and a shop filled with broken videocassette recorders, vacuum cleaners, toasters and televisions.

"The key is how many people kept coming back or wanted to take their new stuff to him to get it fixed," said Raymond Pines, an old friend, neighbor and former client.

"I'd say that if you know the majority of your customers on a first-name basis -- like Boss did -- then they're return customers. Boss knew nearly everyone of his people's first names."

For nearly 30 years, "Boss" Johnson operated Johnson's Radio and TV Repair -- a one man, six days a week, bring-it-in-and- we-can-bargain-on-a-price-after- it's-fixed shop in the 1500 block of Washington St.

Mr. Johnson never had formal schooling in electronics, but fixed items ranging from antique RCA radios to Philco televisions to modern stereos with a circuit board.

Mr. Johnson's daughter, Pearl Hicks of Baltimore, said a woman once brought in an old Victrola record player to have fixed.

"When she brought it in he just started laughing and told her to bring in a blueprint for it," Ms. Hicks said. Although he had never fixed a Victrola before, he had it fixed within a few days.

The key to Mr. Johnson's success was that he constantly read textbooks on electronics and learned to fix some of the newer, more complicated appliances through trial and error.

"He wasn't in the least bit afraid of working with electronics, in fact it was a passion of his," Ms. Hicks said. "Once he read up on something, he knew he could fix it."

Ralph Epps, who lives near Mr. Johnson's former shop, said his concern for customers was his main asset.

"I think that's one of the things he was known for most," Mr. Epps said. "He knew that people didn't want to leave their stuff hung up long in the shop because they needed it yesterday, so he'd get right to work on it as soon as it came in."

Mr. Epps recalled a man who came into the shop with a Hoover upright vacuum cleaner that needed repair. Its cover was off and several wires were unattached. The man had a company that cleaned offices at night and he needed it fixed fast.

"He went to work on it immediately. It was an old machine that didn't have much life left in it but it was all he had," Mr. Epps said. "In a couple of hours, it was done."

Born in Norfolk, Va., Mr. Johnson moved to Baltimore in 1956 and opened his shop the same year in a building in which he lived on the second floor. He married Mary A. Neal in 1946. He retired in 1984.

"When he retired, he didn't want to stop," his daughter said. "He still wanted to do it [repair appliances] but he couldn't because of his health."

Services were held yesterday. In addition to his wife and daughter, survivors include a son, Murriel L. Johnson Jr.; a brother, Waverly Johnson; and five grandchildren. All are from Baltimore.

Pub Date: 11/27/96

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