Nancy Nestor Johnson has always had an adversarial relationship with death. She first triumphed over it at age fourteen, giving up only a spleen as penance. Over the years, she fought death again and again: two types of cancer, ehrlichiosis, a severed colon, traumatic brain injury from a horse-riding mishap, and others too numerous to name. Despite all these miraculous escapes, fate finally caught up with Nancy. At 84, she was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. She had used her too big heart one too many over her lifetime. In the end, she passed away peacefully on her farm, surrounded by family who couldn’t help but chuckle at the ironic twist in the tale of a woman who had defied death in countless ways but succumbed in sleep.
Nancy took full advantage of the dozen lives she was given on this earth. She was the first person in her family to attend and graduate college. She raced cars and thrilled to put her 1971 Triumph Spitfire to the test. She chased foxes, mostly astride one of her beautiful horses, a Baker’s Dozen of them. Even more dogs graced her decades, mostly Elkhounds, the latest puppy joining the family when she was 82. She had children and adventured with them – tossing them into the back of a pickup truck for an impromptu vacation to Mexico (at least it had a camper top!) – or taking SCUBA lessons with them. Along with her beloved husband of 63 years, Danny, she built orchards, farms, wineries, stores, rental properties, and more. Each started with the same three words from her – “Do you think…”. A proud Daughter of the Confederacy and a passionate advocate for equal rights, Nancy built a swimming pool beside her house in the 1960s to teach children of all races to swim when some had no other place to learn. She was a founding member of Little Town Players, bringing entertainment and critical acclaim to the town of Bedford that has lasted nearly five decades and counting. She was instrumental bringing the D-Day Memorial to Bedford County.
While Nancy never sought accolades, she was consistently recognized for both her volunteer work and business achievements: Excellence in Teaching to Outstanding Farm Woman of the Year to the Athena Award for professional excellence and service to women to the Philanthropist Award. Her motto has always been “service before self.” And serve she did, as a Lay Minister for St. John’s Episcopal Church, a Guardium Ad Litem for children in court appearances and a tour guide for thousands upon thousands of school children, helping them learn about life on a farm.
Nancy’s biggest legacy is surely the family she left behind far too soon. She started dating Danny when she was 15 years old and has rarely been away from his side since. She had two children (Dan, aka Chip, and Shannon and their wives Justina and Donna), five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. She doted on each of them. She leaves behind a sister, Cindy, and friends who have known her a few months and friends who have loved her for more than 75 years.
Whether it be barrel racing or fox hunting or however the angels in heaven play, we know one thing: they will all be vying for her. A winner is on her way.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider a donation to the D-Day Memorial.
A memorial service will be held at a later date.
Tharp Funeral Home & Crematory, Bedford, is assisting the family. To send online condolences please visit tharpfuneralhome.com.