HATCH, Garfield County — Less than 24 hours after Scott Barney proposed to his fiancee, she died in a small plane crash.
Now five months later, the memory of his proposal at the Cedar Ridge Golf Course still lingers. But Barney, 22, wants the world to know how great Mandy Johnson was. While he still mourns her loss, he has adopted her life motto in his daily activities.
"She was amazing," Barney grins as he recalls his fiancee.
Johnson, 20, was one of 10 employees of the Cedar City Red Canyon Aesthetics and Medical Spa dermatology clinic who died after helping Moab residents at one of the company's satellite sites.
" She was all-girl," recalls her mother, Susan Johnson. "Boys, fashion, purses, shopping. Yet she was also a Sterling Scholar in agriculture science."
As a junior majoring in communications at Southern Utah University, she loved to give tours for prospective students. She was also a Washington County Fair first attendant and Miss Hurricane.
Her pageant platform? "Kindness is contagious — catch it."
"Kindness was a gift … her gift of spirits," says her father, Bevin Johnson.
One thing that especially impressed Scott? "Her love for children."
"Theirs was a cute love story," says Scott's mom, Terry Barney, postmaster in Hatch. "From day one, they were inseparable."
Currently a pre-dental student studying finance, Barney plans on becoming an orthodontist or pediatric dentist. He grew up in a close family of seven brothers and excelled in sports at Panguitch High.
He felt one thing was missing from his life, until he met Mandy Johnson.
"I knew she was something special because she never stopped smiling no matter what was going on. She even said she never had a bad day," remembers Barney.
When speaking about Johnson, Barney lights up.
"In high school, she remembered everyone's name and something about them so that when she'd see them she could talk to them."
Still smiling, reminiscing, Barney appears to be elsewhere, deep in thought.
"Happy. She was always happy and caring because of her love for people; it was really genuine no matter who she was around."
Aug. 21 couldn't have come soon enough. It was to be a special event — and at a golf course of all places.
"We sat on a bench on one of the tee boxes. We read scriptures about marriage." Smiling, Barney says, "I can't believe she didn't pick up on it. I had a person go up there earlier and put a bag on the course which had a dozen roses and a ring in there. Then, when we were leaving, I acted like we should pick up the trash. I gave her the flowers, but she still didn't know," he shakes his head, still smiling. "So, I said, 'You should read the tag,' which read, 'Looking forward to spending an eternity with you.' "
Back at the clubhouse, both sets of parents were there.
"I'd never seen Mandy so happy in the time I'd known her," Barney said. "She was in seventh heaven."
A plane crash
Not but 30 seconds after takeoff, the plane crashed and was engulfed in flames.
Barney was baby-sitting that night; Johnson was to join him.
"I kept wondering where she was. I tried calling her a few times."
Then, his stake president, whose family owned the plane that crashed, came around 10 p.m. and broke the news.
"It was like a bad dream. I keep thinking, 'This isn't happening. This can't be true.' We'd just gotten engaged the night before."
That next week, school began at SUU. Barney was to volunteer at a dental clinic and continue with his schooling and church activities. Keeping busy was almost therapeutic and helped take his mind off the plane crash and Johnson.
Still, for Barney, it was tough, even though family and friends were there to support him.
"The biggest thing that sustained me was my belief. I studied scripture more than I ever had."
And there was something else. Johnson kept a journal. And in her journal were entries about she and Barney. Her parents let him read what Mandy had written.
"It made me feel good that she felt that way about me, but it was sad to know how much I lost. It was comforting to be able to read that."
Then Barney got his turn.
"I kind of just wrote about our story. I gave a copy to her family. They really enjoyed it. It was a comfort to them that she left so happy."
"She taught me to be happy in even the most miserable experiences in life. That it's not our circumstances that control our attitude," says Barney.
"She also taught me the importance of people. That no matter who they are, no matter what they've been through, no matter what they do, they're still important. They need to be loved even if it's their fault getting into their circumstances."
Barney's also learned some lessons of his own. What he would tell someone in a similar circumstance?
"Don't blame God. Life's not perfect. With the Savior's help we can learn how to take care of things."
When asked what advice Mandy might give him now, he says, matter-of-factly, "She would say, 'Keep going. Don't get discouraged. I'm fine. Use what you've learned to help other people.' "
Scott's already taken Mandy's advice. He's now a trained volunteer at a hospice.
"I'll be working with people dying and their families and how to get through it," he said.
He takes comfort that Mandy died at the happiest time of her life.
But the most comfort, and what continues to uphold him, her motto, "Kindness is contagious: catch it."
"The quicker we can learn to be thankful for what we have — our trials, our difficulties — the happier we'll be."
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