Dancin’ Granny, a fan favorite at Canes games, dies

ablythe@newsobserver.comFebruary 28, 2013 

— Joyce Johnston had a shy streak that seemed to magically disappear whenever the JumboTron camera found her in the stands of Carolina Hurricanes games.

The white-haired, small-town woman, born 85 years ago in Turtle Creek, W. Va., would rise from her seat when the song “Low” by rapper Flo Rida boomed through the hockey arena and delighted her adoring fans with a few slick dance moves.

Her high energy and exuberance moved the crowd, and, according to her family, the woman who became widely known as the Hurricanes Dancin’ Granny was just as moved by her many fans.

On Wednesday, Johnston died from complications of a fall. Alzheimer’s disease and aches and pains had kept her away from hockey games in recent years.

But her daughter, Sandy Yates of Youngsville, said Johnston basked in the warmth of the good wishes of the Hurricane fans even though she could not attend games.

“You cannot imagine what it has meant,” Yates said Thursday. “It was just wonderful.”

Johnston, the daughter of Floyd Earnest Berry and Ida Mae Lester Berry, was born Oct. 9, 1927. She moved to Bristol, Va., in 1945 and met and married her husband, Tom Johnston.

Though her last 12 years were spent in Youngsville, Johnston lived much of her life in Lebanon, Va. She worked at Lebanon Apparel Corporation until she was 72. Her last job there was night janitor, her daughter said.

Though it was a different style, Johnston and her husband were avid square dancers – so much so that each wanted to be buried in costume. Her husband died in 1976.

Johnston’s instant NHL celebrity came at the first Canes game she attended. It was in 2000. Her daughter and son-in-law had gone to the concession stands, and as she waited for their return, a star was born.

“She was sitting there by herself and she looked up and saw herself on the screen,” Yates said. “She told us at first she didn’t realize it was her.”

But the camera liked her, and, despite her reserved demeanor, she liked the camera.

“She just got up and started twisting,” Yates said. “We had no idea it would take off the way it did. It was just unbelievable.”

Soon Johnston was posing for pictures with fans, signing autographs and getting to know the players and managers behind Raleigh’s professional hockey team. Her trips into and out of the arena could take hours.

“She loved the kids,” Yates said. “She loved everybody.”

With just over five minutes remaining in the first period of the Canes game on Thursday, the song “Low,” by Flo Rida was played one last time and retired by the Hurricanes in memory of Dancin’ Granny.

A video of some of her dance moves was shown on the JumboTron. The crowd remembered Johnston with a standing ovation.

A funeral service is set for 8 p.m. Friday at Owens Funeral Service Chapel in Lebanon, Va. A graveside service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday in Bristol, Tenn.

In addition to her daughter and son-in-law in Youngsville, Johnston is survived by a son, Tom Johnston of Charleston, W.Va., two sisters, a brother and a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Carolina Hurricanes’ Kids ’N Community Foundation or a favorite charity.

Staff photographer Chris Seward contributed to this report.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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