Johnnie Mae Daniels, 86, retired nurse, died August 6, 2013, after a two-year battle with multiple chronic diseases. She came to Los Angeles after attending Phyllis Wheatley High School in Houston, Texas. Born in the tiny town of Hungerford, Texas, she arrived in Los Angeles single, unemployed, and with the telephone number and address of a cousin who lived in Los Angeles. She described her small town farm family as “poorer than rats” but never hungry and rich in what mattered most ��" love, fellowship and spirit. Raised in part by her great uncle, George and her great aunt, Mama Belle, a descendant of Haitian slaves, Johnnie learned to assume responsibility at an early age working on a farm. This grit was evident in her ability to secure a job as a machine operator in a downtown sewing factory and began sharing rent with her cousin within a day of arriving in Los Angeles. Shortly thereafter, she began a second job as a housekeeper.
Johnnie’s life in Los Angeles began when Central Avenue was in its heyday. It was while strolling down the avenue known for its famous jazz and blues clubs that she met her future husband and fellow Texan, piano player and bandleader, Richard “Danny” Daniels. She was her extroverted husband’s polar opposite, being introverted and a reader. But they shared a love of family and music and the ambition to seek more than either of their small towns could offer. It was from this bond that they went on to raise two children, Richard and Michele.
Johnnie worked in several domestic service positions before landing a job as a nanny and live-in housekeeper to Dr. Hilmer and Jeanne Gilbert. Her tenure with the Gilberts, their support of her and her education and their embracing of her and her family left a lasting impression on Johnnie, especially when it came to the value of education. Johnnie passed on to her children her regard for higher education and her appreciation and openness to people from varied cultures, religions, politics and walks of life. Her home on 78th Street with neighbors from the United States, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Haiti and Mexico fit that point of view.
Johnnie worked two jobs while raising her children and caring for her family. To these she added night classes in order to obtain her high school diploma. Then she began college classes and continued until she obtained her nursing degree. Johnnie worked for more than 20 years as a nurse including the last 16 years spent at UCLA’s cancer ward. Always the penny pincher, she made sure family money was set aside to buy a home and send her children to private school, music and dance lessons and on road trips. Once her children graduated from high school, Johnnie began annual trips that took her to nearly every major country and continent except Japan and Antarctica.
Johnnie retired from UCLA in 1988 and became chief babysitter for her eldest grandson, Jason. She served in the same capacity for her second grandson, Chase. But her days with Chase were cut short when she took over the care of her beloved son, Richard, after he developed a terminal illness. Her third grandson, Madison, although not a primary recipient of babysitting services, like his brothers, shared a special bond with “Grandma” and gobbled up her sweet potato pie just as fast as they did.
Johnnie was a faithful member of St. Raphael’s Church. She loved her church and its senior club, travel, reading, casinos, blues music, and family and friends. Her husband Richard and son Richard Gilbert preceded her in death. She is survived and loved by her daughter, Michele; son-in-law, Winston (Kevin) McKesson; grandsons, Jason, Chase and Madison; many cousins including the Andersons of Texas and Northern California and the Browns of Houston, Texas; and other family members and friends.
August 16, 2013 • 10:00 A.M.
Father Tracy O’Sullivan