La. community, family remember fallen chief

Chief's daughter: "He just had a way with people that he could get to them, bring them comfort"

By Bridget Mire
The Houma Courier

WEST TERREBONE, La. — No matter where he and his family traveled, Johnny Bush always found someone in need or they found him.

"Could have been that they were having health problems, could have been that they were stuck," said his daughter, Teri Vanderkamp. "We used to tell him, 'You're wearing a sign.' People would just pick him out. He just had a way with people that he could get to them, bring them comfort."

Those qualities served him well as chief of West Terrebonne Fire and Rescue. Vanderkamp said her father was a junior firefighter, served in the Navy from 1987 to 1991, and joined the fire service in 1992, working his way up the ranks.

The Gibson resident died Sunday at age 47.

He was dubbed a "miracle baby" by his mother, Gigi Price, who thought she and her late husband couldn't have children. He was their only child.

"Johnny was identical to his dad," Price said. "The older he got, the more he looked like him, the more he acted like him."

Bush's father also served in the Navy. They were also both engineers and went on jobs together.

The family is burying Bush in the same tomb as his father.

"He always said no one would ever come to his funeral, but we've got fire departments, local officials just coming out of the woodwork," Price said. "If he could see this, he would be amazed."

Terrebonne 911 Director Mark Boudreaux said West Terrebonne was one of the fire departments his agency dispatched. He said he'll remember Bush for his loyalty and dedication to the fire service and community.

"Without a doubt, he was one of the most respected, favorite fire chiefs we ever worked with," Boudreaux said. "He would call just to see how things were going. He would call after an incident to see exactly what happened. He would actually take pictures of accidents to show this is what the case was about, and that was awesome. ... We had a very good rapport. It was like working with a brother."

Boudreaux described Bush as hilarious, kind-hearted, down-to-earth, straight-forward and a good friend. He would start off conversations with a joke, and Boudreaux never saw him angry.

Bush also served as a Terrebonne sheriff's deputy, Boudreaux said. A spiritual person, he believed God put him on earth to serve.

"He had a great radio voice," Boudreaux said. "When he would talk to you, he would just have this really nice, cool, sensible tone of voice. It was very calming to hear him on the radio or the phone. ... He would listen to his radio 24/7 and make sure everything was taken care of. It wasn't about, 'This is mine' or anything like that. Everything was about, 'We're all here to do the same job.'"

Bayou Black Fire Chief Tony Bercegeay said he and Bush last worked together for a natural gas plant explosion Oct. 8 in Gibson. To him, Bush's greatest achievement was helping consolidate fire departments in Chacahoula, Donner and Gibson into one.

"You needed him, he was there for you," Bercegeay said. "You could count on him. He would work with you, not against you. He was always looking for suggestions and better ways to do things. He brought unity, togetherness, understanding, appreciation, friendship. He met any challenge he had head-on."

Bush met his wife, Rieko, in Japan.

"He was the love of my life," she said. "He always protected me and made me feel safe. ... I never had to worry about anything."

Vanderkamp said her father was the family's rock and always had the right answer to problems. Completely selfless, he didn't attract attention to himself.

Bush loved videography, photography, electronics, building models and cooking. Vanderkamp's favorite dish of his was smoked salmon and hibachi vegetables, but she said there was nothing he couldn't cook.

She said her dad was a source of comic relief. He'd change song lyrics to make them funny, such as switching "Walking in a winter wonderland" to "Walking around with my parrain."

"He made us laugh, just changed the way the world looked," she said. "So many people we didn't know too good are calling and saying, 'He touched my life in ways he'll never know.' ... His greatest achievement was his love for his family and his commitment. He's a superhero to us. That's how we all view him."

Copyright 2016 The Houma Courier

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