news-category: Campus News

Gardner-Webb’s ‘Chief’ Barry Johnson Retiring After 26 Years of Service

Chief Barry Johnson enjoys calling for Pancake Bingo. Photo by Danielle Billups / GWU Photo Team

Stop By Poston Center on Thursday, Sept. 22, to Wish Him Well

BOILING SPRINGS, N.C.—Barry Johnson, known across campus simply as ‘Chief,’ has announced his retirement as GWU’s Chief of University Police. He has served the GWU community since 1996.

Hadley, ‘Papa Chief’s’ granddaughter

The campus is invited to stop by the Poston Center from 2 to 4 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 22, to wish Johnson well in his new position as “Papa Chief.” Johnson is retiring, and he and his wife, Mitzi, are moving to Alabama to babysit their new 8-month-old granddaughter, Hadley.  

“Gardner-Webb has had no better friend over these many years than Chief Barry Johnson,” praised Gardner-Webb President William Downs. “Chief has protected us each and every day, and he’s been the consummate professional throughout. What’s distinguished him, though, is the ability to provide for the safety of our campus while remaining so accessible and beloved by so many. He’s fun to be around and he can be hilarious, but he had our back at every turn. I’m thrilled for Barry and Mitzi, because they now get to enjoy being close to their growing family. It’s mixed emotions for us, though, because I’m really going to miss that guy!”

A 1984 Gardner-Webb alumnus, Johnson is originally from Wilmington, N.C. His family roots led him to GWU: his brother attended in the late ‘70s, and his sister came soon after. Johnson met his wife, a Boiling Springs native, on campus.

After graduating from GWU, the Johnsons moved to Atlantic Beach, N.C. While there, he joined the Coast Guard and began work at the sheriff’s department. They eventually moved back to Boiling Springs and Johnson took a job as a night officer at GWU. When the chief position at Gardner-Webb became available, he applied and was offered the job.

During his 26 years on the job, Johnson has been guided by one principal: Helping students to navigate college life. He works to develop relationships with the students, whom he refers to as his children. “When we do that orientation speech, the students are sitting there all giddy,” Johnson described. “I get up and say, ‘Your momma and daddy has left now, they’ve left you here.’ And they say, ‘yeah, yeah!’ I look at them, and dead serious—as serious as I can say it—‘I’m your daddy now.’”

He added, “People need a personal relationship with their police chief, because you never know when you might need him. I’m probably the only police chief in the state of N.C. who gives his cell phone number out, and parents really appreciate that.”

Vice President for Student Development Lesley Villarose is grateful for how Johnson interacts with students, parents and everyone on campus. “On behalf of Student Development, I want to thank Chief Johnson for his years of service to the University, to the division and more importantly to our students,” she affirmed. “Chief has always been a wonderful advocate for our students and for the University Police department. His years of experience, work ethic and his personality allowed for him to be an outstanding Chief of Police, colleague, and an even better friend. We will all miss him, but we are very happy for him, Mitzi, and their family. We are grateful for what he has taught us for always knowing how to make us laugh.”

Other ways that Johnson builds relationships with students are by offering to give them money for answering trivia or playing games. He also enjoys helping with Pancake Bingo. He’s the emcee and worked with Micah Martin to develop the coveted “mystery bag,” a prize that everyone wants to win.

When he’s driving across campus in his golf cart, Johnson greets every person, making even the shy students speak to him. Some stop to chat or ask a question. “That’s what I’m going to miss the most—those interactions with students,” Johnson asserted. “I will miss protecting them and keeping them safe. I’ve been fortunate to work for some great vice presidents, some really good advocates for students. All these people have students’ interests at heart. I’m leaving (the job) in great hands. We have some great officers here, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great people here at Gardner-Webb. I will miss them a ton.”

Chief of University Police, Barry Johnson, connected with students when he took the Git Up Challenge.

Gardner-Webb University is North Carolina’s recognized leader in private, Christian higher education. A Carnegie-Classified Doctoral/Professional University, GWU is home to six professional schools, 14 academic departments, more than 80 undergraduate and graduate majors, and a world-class faculty. Located on a beautiful 225-acre campus in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb prepares graduates to impact their chosen professions, equips them with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspires them to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. Ignite your future at

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