Deborah "Debbie" Jean (Phillips) Johnson

March 10, 1954 ~ June 3, 2022 (age 68)


March 10, 1954 was a radiant day in Alton, Illinois. This is the day Donald and Dorothy Jean Phillips laid eyes on the newest addition to their family: Deborah Jean Phillips. With sister Christine and future brother Jim, Debbie was the perfect touch of sugar and spice, bringing joy and sass to each family home in Illinois, Missouri, California, and Arizona.

Even at a young age, Debbie was known as a compassionate caregiver. As a first grader, big sister Debbie held hands with little brother Jim all the way to school. Debbie and Jim’s bond grew stronger throughout their childhood and into their adolescent years as both discovered their love for the theater. With the passing of their father Donald in 1990, mother Dorothy in 1995, and sister Chris in 2003, Debbie and Jim became closer than ever.

In 1972, Debbie became a Missouri Tiger, accepting a freshman scholarship to MU’s prestigious School of Journalism. Although she paused her studies at Mizzou to attend the University of Arizona (an opportunity to move back home and take advantage of in-state tuition), Debbie returned to Mizzou her Junior year to pursue her true calling, a purpose sister Christine helped her to realize: Special Education. A proud Mizzou alumna, Debbie completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s of Special Education in 1977. MIZ!

Debbie was introduced to another true calling of sorts while attending Mizzou: none other than Mr. Steven Lloyd Johnson. 

As a member of MU’s Rec Bowling Team, Debbie attended a team banquet where she was originally to be seated next to the Team Captain, Frank. Even then, Steve Johnson had all of the smooth moves and subtlety rearranged Debbie's place card next to his own – STRIKE! Debbie and Steve talked all night and the rest is history, including Steve’s place on the team. Captain Frank not-so-subtly kicked Steve off the team, but Steve had already walked away with his trophy. Steve and Debbie married May 28, 1977 in Montgomery City, Missouri and celebrated with a legendary reception that, to this day, the groom does not remember! 

In August of 1981, Debbie and Steve welcomed Daniel (Dan/Danny) and moved to the Carterville area a few months later. Carterville officially became home as Debbie began her work overseeing training for parents with children in special education. Younger son William (Bill/Billy) made the Johnson family whole two years later. Debbie was soon hired by the Williamson County Special Education District at Carterville High School – a position that defined her career until her 2013 retirement. (Rumor has it Debbie worked for two additional years simply to offset food and beverage expenses that resulted from Dan and Bill’s friends taking full advantage of Debbie’s “open door” and “the more, the merrier” policies. Cases of Orange Crush can really add up over the years!)

In 1999, Debbie was named Illinois Special Education Teacher of the Year, a title that awarded her and Steve a first-class flight to the national conference in Vancouver, Canada. Debbie fondly recalls this trip as one of her favorite adventures. Even in her retirement, Debbie stayed connected with her students, providing counsel, encouragement, and of course, lots of hugs. 

Retirement was no match for Debbie’s active volunteer and social schedule! 

Debbie lent her time and talents to the First United Methodist Church (where she and Steve have been members since 1981) as a Sunday School Teacher, Liturgist, and devoted choir member. She also was heavily involved with activities within the Carterville School District – working on 15+ school musicals (with Steve taping each performance) and being the assistant coach for the Carterville cheerleading squad, who went on to win the 2006 ICCA state championship.  As empty nesters, Debbie and Steve welcomed their first of many pugs, Lucky Dog, a gift from the kids to the family. (Mama, Steve’s mom, who moved into the family home in 1991, eventually came around to the new family member despite an alleged pug allergy.) 

Retirement also provided time for traveling (especially to Islamorada, Florida, where Debbie smiled every minute of every day), swim class with best friends at John A. Logan College, happy hours with the teachers, trips to Giant City Lodge and Fujiyama Hibachi Grill to celebrate anything and everything, and of course, cheering on her Kansas City Chiefs, Missouri Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals, and hometown Carterville Lions.

Life was good!

And it just kept getting better when Debbie took on a new job. . . her favorite job of all: Grandma to Dan and Amy’s two girls, Alex (9) and Charlie (6), and Nana to Bill and Kellie’s children, Gavin (12), Lyla (10), and Leo (6). 

Just like she never, ever missed one of Dan and Bill’s games or events, Nana/Grandma was front and center for preschool graduations, birthday parties, baseball, basketball, soccer, softball, dance and cheerleading competitions. She was the first to plan family vacations. Whether making Texas sheet cakes with Lyla, planning a special Arizona trip for Alex, pitching balls to Gavin and Leo, bringing 17th Street BBQ and Krispy Kremes to Columbia, or teaming up with Alex and Charlie at Amy’s family’s Easter egg hunt, Nana/Grandma did it all. Debbie is no doubt just kicking herself thinking about how many events she will miss, but we know she will always be her grandkids’ Number 1 Fan. 

Debbie’s legacy of love and generosity lives on through her enduring impact on her neighbors and community. She will be missed by many, but missed most by her loving husband, Steve; hard-working, loyal sons, Dan Johnson (Amy), Bill Johnson (Kellie); and her 5 grandchildren, Gavin, Lyla, Alex, Charlie, and Leo. 

Debbie’s zest for life will live on forever.

Deborah “Debbie” Jean Johnson, 68, of Carterville, passed away Friday, June 3, 2022, at the Broward Health Medical Center in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Funeral services will be held at 11:00 a.m., Tuesday, June 14, 2022, at the First United Methodist Church in Carterville, with Pastor Larry Gilbert officiating. Visitation will begin after 5:00 p.m., Monday, June 13, 2022, at Riggin-Pillatsch & Burke Funeral Home in Carterville.

As mentioned above, Debbie loved her sports teams.  In honor of this, the family would love for anyone attending the visitation to wear the colors of their favorite sports team.

Should friends desire, contributions can be made in Debbie's name, to one of her greatest passions, the Anne West Lindsey District Library.


To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Deborah "Debbie" Jean (Phillips) Johnson, please visit our floral store.

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June 13, 2022

5:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Riggin-Pillatsch & Burke Funeral Home
322 North Division
Carterville, IL 62918

Funeral Service
June 14, 2022

11:00 AM
First Methodist Church-Carterville
301 Pine Street
Carterville, IL 62918


Anne West Lindsey District Library
N. Division Street, Carterville IL 62918
Tel: 1-618-985-3298

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