Lawrence EMA Director Johnny Cantrell passes away at 55

EMA Director Johnny Cantrell is pictured in his office at the Lawrence County EMA and 911 Center on his first full day in the position in January of 2014.

The death of Lawrence County’s Emergency Management Agency Director Johnny Cantrell is leaving a void that will not be easily filled, according to EMA Assistant Director Tammy Vinson and Lawrence County Coroner Scott Norwood.

“He’s going to be hard to replace. He had a love for this county,” the two said together on Tuesday, following a funeral service that was held for Cantrell on Monday.

Cantrell, 55 of Hatton, passed away Friday, May 1, at 6:17 a.m. at Lawrence Medical Center in Moulton.

Norwood said he died of a pulmonary embolism or a blood clot that had likely settled in the lung area following a kidney stone outpatient procedure Cantrell had had the Thursday before.

“He came by the office and I saw him after he had the kidney stone surgery. He said he’d see me Friday,” said Vinson. “The Wednesday before, he was at the courthouse making floor plans and safety plans for reopening county offices. He also served as the county safety coordinator for all departments.”

Vinson and Norwood called Cantrell a “people person” and an “encourager.”

“I’ve never seen him in a bad mood,” said Vinson. “He talked about his family all the time. He was so proud of his son and daughter, and he always talked about Anita, his wife.”

Cantrell stepped in as EMA director for Lawrence County in December of 2013 after 12 years of experience with the Morgan County Emergency Management Agency.

“He came back to Lawrence County because this is home,” Commissioner Chair Bobby Burch said Friday of Cantrell. “He was a great public servant, a great worker, and an even greater friend.”

Norwood, who also serves as interim 911 Director and worked closely with Cantrell, said he was a reliable co-worker who was dedicated to the safety of Lawrence County residents.

“You could call him for help anytime, day or night,” said Norwood. “No matter what time you called, he’d always answer, ‘Lawrence County EMA,’ even if he knew it was just Scott calling.”

Before his death, Cantrell contributed largely to improvements made within the EMA and 911 offices in Moulton. Before he started, 911 meetings occurred around collapsible picnic tables, Norwood said.

“He completely remodeled this operation,” Vinson agreed. “He drew it out, and I remember him saying he wanted us to start working in the 20th century.”

Remodeling plans Cantrell made for the department included the installation of several updated computer monitors, projectors, and upgrades to weather surveillance cameras that would help the county’s EMA weather response time.

“When there were tornados or severe weather, he was out in the middle of it doing whatever he could to help… You could call him for anything, even if it was out of his scope of work, he’d do what he could,” said Vinson. “The whole EMA family is going to miss him.”

She said several EMA departments from all across the state, as well as TVA personnel and former Air Force colleagues of Cantrell’s, were represented at his funeral on Monday.

“We respect the law and these COVID-19 restrictions,” she added. “Vehicles were lined up at the funeral home, and at the gravesite, we each had to maintain our distance, but we were there.”

After graduating from Hatton High School in 1983, Cantrell attended the University of North Alabama and Calhoun Community College before joining the Air Force. He spent four years on active duty and four years in the Air Force Reserve.

Cantrell is survived by his wife, Anita Coan Cantrell, and two children, his son Cody, and daughter Mariah. He was laid to rest on Monday, May 4, at Moulton Memory Gardens.

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