Bruce Johnson: Canada’s first—and only—Good Neighbor Award winner

When Bruce Johnson stepped out onto the stage in front of 6,500 applauding REALTORS® at the Marcone Centre in San Francisco, his mind went blank except for one vivid thought: his late, infant daughter, Alyssa Rae.

Johnson, a REALTOR® and salesperson from Wasaga Beach, Ontario, was recently invited to California to be recognized as the first-ever Canadian recipient of the Good Neighbor Award from the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR). Celebrating its 20th year, the award recognizes REALTORS® who make extraordinary commitments to improving the quality of life in their communities. Each year, five Good Neighbor Award winners and five honourable mentions are recognized.

“It was very hard to walk out on that stage in front of all those people, especially after seeing their reactions to Alyssa’s video,” Johnson says, mentioning it’s the first time he’s publicly shared the precious first—and last—moments the Johnsons got to spend with Alyssa back in 1998. Diagnosed with omphalocele, Alyssa took her last breaths after just 20 days in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).

Johnson made a vow that day her name would never be forgotten, and thanks to his and his family’s efforts, more than $674,000 has been raised for the Alyssa Rae Johnson fund benefiting the SickKids Foundation. Most recently, the foundation named a patient room at SickKids in honour of Alyssa Rae.

“I think when you do this stuff, you never do it for recognition. It’s safe to say all of the winners want to deflect the spotlight onto the cause we work so hard for. What I’m saying is Motorcycle for Miracles won this award, my family has won this award, every sponsor or Champion Agent has won this award, anyone who donated to our cause has won this award, and so has Canada because SickKids is getting the attention it deserves.”

Johnson’s fundraising initiative for the hospital made international headlines last year. He and his daughter, Holly, drove their 2007 BMW R1200 GS motorcycle from the top of the world in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost town in the world. The months-long journey saw them evading bears, scrambling to find a new engine, weaving along dangerous cliff-side roads and getting stuck in the middle of the Peruvian desert.

Despite the difficulties they faced, Johnson insists it’s nothing in comparison to what children and families at SickKids hospital go through daily—something he knows about all too well.

In front of his American peers at the REALTOR® Conference and Expo held in November 2019, Johnson received a $20,000 grant to his charity of choice, double the amount the five recipients expected.

“That money will go to the hospital’s most pressing needs, but they know we want it directed to the neonatal intensive care unit. That $20,000 is going to do a lot, but what’s incredible is the attention Children’s Miracle Network is getting because of the reach NAR has,” Johnson says. “It’s the first time in 20 years the Children’s Miracle Network is getting the Good Neighbor spotlight shined on them and I’m so honoured to be the one who did that.”

Good Neighbor stories and videos generate considerable local, national and international media attention, which drives additional donations, volunteers and support to each recognized non-profit organization.

What makes this award even more special is how Johnson will be the first and only Canadian to receive the award since NAR’s Board of Directors recently voted to no longer recognize international REALTORS®. Vince Mirabelli, a broker and REALTOR® from Thunder Bay, Ontario, and the first-ever Canadian REALTORS Care® Award winner, received an honourable mention at the Good Neighbor Awards in 2016.

“I am still amazed by (Bruce’s) accomplishments, and now that I have met him in person, it’s easy to see how his warmth and enthusiasm have inspired so many people to support children’s hospitals. This is not a reflection on Bruce or his win. It was a decision related to NAR membership tiers,” said Sara Geimer, Manager of the Good Neighbor Awards of the decision. “I am grateful to have Bruce Johnson and Vince Mirabelli as lifetime members of our Good Neighbor Society.”

During the walkthrough the day before the awards ceremony, Johnson took the floor and was astonished at just how much the Good Neighbor Society has done.

“I told everyone, at this moment there isn’t a more caring room in the world. There are 54 people in this room who have helped change the world so much. The kindness was just… overwhelming.”

Johnson is constantly asked, “what’s next?” Right now, though, he doesn’t have an answer.

“I don’t know if I have another ride in me, or five more. There’s a seed planted right now, but I’m reluctant to even talk about it. I don’t want to ruin the magic of it all,” he says, before adding, “Stay tuned, I guess!”

This post originally appeared on CREA Cafe.

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