I always loved running into Johnny V.

Behind that engaging smile, he always had a story to tell. Some of the accounts would make the most worldly of men blush.

If I had life to start over, I’d want to be like Johnny V. He was always up and never complained. You got the feeling he knew the best was yet to come.

The reality was that there weren’t that many years ahead.

Many remember Johnny V. as the mayor of Gary for a year in the early 1960s when Mayor George Chacharis went to prison. When the office came up for election a year later, Johnny V. declined to seek a full term.

Although he was a welder and belonged to the Iron Workers union, Johnny V. would say he was a politician if you asked what he did for a living.

As much as anything, he was U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky’s father. And who can forget Helen, who kept her husband and son in line before her passing.

I first met Johnny V. during Pete’s first run for Congress in 1984.

Many think Pete wouldn’t have won if Johnny V. hadn’t been there to call many of the shots.

When Pete got tired of beating the pavement and knocking on doors, Johnny V. kicked him in the butt and told him to keep knocking. And this was a guy who was on the cusp of 70.

For Pete, this race was a shot in the dark. He was a lightweight taking on incumbent Katie Hall, who had been picked by caucus after Adam Benjamin’s death, and brash Lake County Prosecutor Jack Crawford.

Johnny V. had a knack for politics — not something you could learn. I guess it’s something you feel.

Shortly after the election, I asked Johnny V. at what point he thought Pete was going to be a winner.

He didn’t even have to think about it. He said it was during a parade in Hammond a couple weeks before the primary. He said he knew his son was going to be a winner because of the way people were reaching out to touch him along the parade route. Johnny V. kept tabs on Pete in the many elections that followed.

When he had reached 90 or so, Pete was driving Johnny V. to a restaurant, and dad gave his son hell because scores of candidates had political signs up but not Pete. It didn’t matter, Johnny V. said, that Pete was unopposed in the primary.

Johnny V. passed on to the great political heaven a week ago. I suspect he’s telling more stories and waging another campaign.

If anyone deserved to live to 101, it was Johnny V.

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Rich James has been writing about state and local government and politics for more than 30 years. Email him at rjamescolumns@gmail.com. The opinions are the writer’s.