The general manager of Kings Dominion in Hanover County is planning to retire after nearly a half-century with the theme park and its parent company.
Tony Johnson announced Tuesday that he will retire in January from Kings Dominion, which is one of Virginia’s biggest tourist attractions in a typical year. The park employs up to 4,000 seasonal employees each year, making it one of the state’s largest employers.
The transition comes as Kings Dominion and numerous other entertainment and tourism businesses have been forced to reduce operations or close entirely because of the coronavirus pandemic. Kings Dominion announced in August that it would remain closed for the rest of 2020 because of the challenges related to the pandemic.
Johnson started at Kings Dominion in 1974, working as a seasonal associate in the Lion Country Safari area — a drive-thru animal preserve that opened a year before the main park opened. Johnson took the job as a summer gig while he also worked during the school year as a teacher and coach in Hanover schools.
After joining Kings Dominion full time in 1984, Johnson rose to become vice president of operations in 1992 and later worked in various management roles for its parent company, Ohio-based Cedar Fair Entertainment Co.
Johnson, who returned to Kings Dominion as vice president and general manager in 2018, will retire effective Jan. 3. He will be succeeded by Bridgette Bywater, Cedar Fair’s corporate director of operations. She has worked for the company for almost 22 years.
“I have been fortunate to have worked with so many wonderful people while at Kings Dominion, with Cedar Fair and throughout the industry while helping bring smiles to so many guests,” Johnson said in a statement.
He was unavailable Tuesday for further comment, a park spokeswoman said.
Changes at Kings Dominion during Johnson’s tenure included the introduction of its first hybrid roller coaster, Twisted Timbers; its first holiday immersive entertainment experience, WinterFest; and family festivals such as Grand Carnivale.
“Tony really achieved the goals of the park, which was having a wonderful entertainment experience for the entire family,” said Wilson Flohr, the former executive vice president and general manager at Kings Dominion from 1984 to 1998.
“The last couples of years, I have had the pleasure of going out to WinterFest. Tony and his team created a remarkable Christmastime experience out there.”
Cedar Fair owns and operates 11 amusement parks, four outdoor water parks, an indoor water park and resort accommodations totaling more than 2,300 rooms.