Helen Johnson passed peacefully on Feb. 24, 2020, in Red Lodge, Mont., surrounded by her family.
Helen Charlotte Stubbs was born on Oct. 4, 1937, in Holmes Chapel, Cheshire, England, to Richard Henry and Hilda Stubbs (née Moundfield). She was born in her family’s Georgian-era cottage facing the town square and St. Luke’s church, and was the second and final child after elder sister Joan.
Helen’s childhood, much like others of her generation, was heavily impacted by World War II. Her father was fortunate to own his own coal and oil business, supplying the surrounding region and ensuring the family was supported even as the country implemented rationing and other war-time measures.
Her father served as a captain in the Home Guard. Helen adored her father, although she later discovered that much of his Home Guard service was a weekly meeting at the Red Lion with a pint, surrounded by friends.
She spent her early years with childhood friend, and lifelong confidant Tess Frost. When Tess began attending school, Helen, a year younger, refused to leave her side and simply began attending classes as well – albeit at age 4.
As Helen approached adolescence, her family moved to Liverpool and she boarded at St. Edmund’s College until her graduation. After graduation, Helen spent time in Liverpool and, as chance would have it, even met a group of young, music-playing unknowns who had named themselves the Blackjacks, an early iteration of what would later become the Beatles.
In the post-War years, the American demand for British nannies proved to be an exciting prospect for Helen. In the summer of 1957, with the help of an agency in New York City, Helen boarded a ship bound for the United States. Her long journey did not end on the American East Coast but continued by train to Denver, where she was met at the station by her soon-to-be American family, Henry and Margaret “Peg” Coe and their children Henry, Anne and Robert of Cody.
Helen was warmly welcomed into the Coe family and was introduced to the American West with trips to Pahaska Tepee and Yellowstone National Park. She formed a lifelong bond with Anne and was introduced to other Codyites, many of whom knew Helen for the rest of her life.
In 1959, she married Michael Q. May of the Antlers Ranch, Meeteetse, and had three children, Michael Q. “Micky,” Rebecca Lee, and Richard Henry ‘Sam’ May. Helen raised her children on the Antlers Ranch and developed a love for the Wood River and northwest Wyoming.
During her parents’ visits to the area, she was able to introduce them to ranching and the Wyoming way of life, a very different experience than that found in northern England. Helen also became a naturalized American citizen, although she remained a proud Brit.
Following a divorce in 1981, Helen married the love of her life, Dr. James L. ‘Lew’ Johnson. Lew’s four children, Cindy, Jenny, Bo, and Russell, joined with Helen’s three, and all managed to peacefully create one cohesive group. The entire family enjoyed time spent at their cabin on the North Fork outside of Cody and making memories that all have cherished since.
In Lew, Helen found a true partner and friend, and the two spent the better part of three decades traveling and supporting one another. In the late 1980s, the pair moved to Medford, Ore., for Lew’s medical practice at the Veterans Administration and, as they had previously done in Cody, developed friendships, hosted family, and explored this new, yet special part of the country.
Helen and Lew moved back to Cody in 1994 and settled into an active retirement. They always provided a home for visitors and locals alike, and Helen would rarely miss her Thursday poker group, a tradition started more than 40 years ago.
She was a caregiver to Lew in his final years and was truly heartbroken at his passing. With the love and support of those closest to her, Helen remained active and was happiest with her friends.
She was an avid volunteer, graciously giving her time to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West and the Heart Mountain Volunteer Medical Clinic, and was a member of PEO International. She was a devoted Christian and proud parishioner of Christ Episcopal Church in Cody.
On the rare occasions that Helen was not with Anne and her many friends, she would often have a book in her hand, and remained an avid reader throughout her life. She was a loving and kind Nana to her grandchildren, who could always rest assured that English shortbread cookies were available in her kitchen.
Those who knew Helen will remember her laugh, kindness, style, grace, and characteristic nerve and feistiness. She was opinionated and spoke her mind, perhaps at times to the surprise of those who only knew her polite, English facade. She carried a sense of adventure throughout her life, the same adventure that likely caused her to board a ship at age 19 and cross the Atlantic. She loved to have fun and was always a friend to her friends – a group of equally amazing women who will miss her dearly.
Helen was preceded in death by her parents, Richard Henry and Hilda Stubbs, sister Joan Stubbs, and husband Lew Johnson.
She is survived by son Micky May and wife Lisa of Dallas, Texas; daughter Beckie Tilden and husband Scott Wagner of Cody and Chandler, Ariz.; son Sam May of Meeteetse; daughters Cindy Bennett and Jenny Johnson, son Bo Johnson and wife Debbie, and son Russell Johnson, all of Cody. She is the dearly loved grandmother of S.J., Michael, Amelia, Patrick, Matilynn, Samantha, Abigail, Matthew, Madison, Keaton, Logan, Claire, Eve, Zach and Megan.
A memorial is planned for the summer at Christ Episcopal Church and cremation has taken place. The family would like to thank the caring staff and hospice support at The Willows in Red Lodge, Mont.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a gift to The Willows through the St. John’s Foundation.