ROBERT EUGENE "BOB" JOHNSON ~ Class of 1950
April 2, 1933 - February 15, 2008
Robert E. ďBJĒ Johnson died at his home in Barstow, CA on February 15, 2008 at the age of 74 after complications with his heroic and headstrong battle against colon cancer. Born April 2, 1933 in St. Paul, AR, Bob was the first of five children for Alva and Macel Johnson. After his first ten years of simple life in the Ozark Mountains his father answered the call for civilian duty at the Hanford Project in 1943, which later brought the family cross-country to Richland, WA and the Inland Empire. Housing was scarce which forced the family to live in various small towns in the area until government housing became available.
Once established at their new home in Richland, there were additional challenges of wind, dust storms, no lawns and adapting to life in a government controlled town. However, the benefits were good: cheap rent, house maintenance and excellent pay. "Bobbie Gene", as his siblings knew him, and the other children found ways to have fun and make extra money by delivering papers, babysitting and other odd jobs while working hard at their school studies. His parents considered education for the kids a top priority. Through hard work and perseverance Bob graduated in the upper percentile of the Columbia High School Class of 1950, a few short months after turning 17 years old.
In the fall of 1950 Bob returned to the south to continue his education at David Lipscomb College. After one year of college he received an invitation from the United States Government to visit his local enlistment office and, as a result, joined the United States Air Force. Interestingly, this second attempt to serve his country was successful, for at the age of about 10 Bob hopped a train under the guise of running errands in town and proudly presented himself for military service, only to be told to return when he was older. After serving four years as a fighter jet radar technician and receiving an honorable discharge, he returned to Richland to pursue his collegiate education and follow his dreams of becoming an aircraft pilot.
As time passed and the passion for flying grew, so did the desire to raise a family. In 1957 he married Zana Lea Ellison of Rapid City, SD and within the next 6 years Steven, Alan, Karen and Sandra were born. He continued to support his family for the next few years by employment with engineering firms including Vitro Engineering in Richland. But the love of the air wasnít to pass him by as he was instrumental in the startup and management of various local charter and commuter airlines including Am-Air, Execuair, Columbia Pacific Airlines, Golden Gate Airlines and Zephyr Aviation Services (Burbank, CA).
As the commuter airline business tightened up Bobís attention turned to corporate piloting. This era of his career involved employment with Lockheed Martin and Jet Propulsion Laboratory in southern California. When it was finally time to hang up his wings he had logged over 18,000 hours of flying time in various turboprop and corporate jet aircraft. But his aviation career was not quite over as he accepted a position as an instructor with FlightSafety International in Wichita, KS for the next couple years.
After nearly 45 years in the aviation industry he chose to focus on other hobbies and special interests. Not wanting to let any grass grow under his feet he obtained his Commercial Drivers License and logged over 250,000 miles in the left seat of an 18-wheeler with Apex Bulk Commodities, C. R. England and FedEx Ground. He made many special friends in his hobbies of dune buggies, horseback riding and animal husbandry in the high deserts of southern California. He was particularly fond of the memories created with his horseback riding club, Coral 66 in Barstow. He also enjoyed recreational running, having participated in many running events and 11 marathons after the age of 50. Unfortunately his life was cut short and he was unable to chase his most recent desire of operating a diesel-electric locomotive.
His life hasnít been without sorrow, however, as he had to endure the death of his parents and, in October 2007, his sister, Susie Haney of Richland, WA.
But as life goes on, so do the many memories held by Roland Haney of Richland, WA; Bill ('57) and Joyce Green ('57) Johnson of Spokane, WA; Jim ('60) and Peggy Johnson of Atlanta, GA; Janice Johnson Chunn ('63) and Malcum Chunn of Richland, WA; Zana Johnson of Barstow, CA; son Steve, Victoria, Christofer and Andrew Johnson of Caldwell, ID; son Alan, Janet, Casey and Taylor Johnson of Tigard, OR; daughter Karen, Steve, Joey and Amy Traywick and Craig Chadwick of Chattanooga, TN; daughter-Sandra, Major Robert (Bob) and Max Williams of San Antonio, TX; and many special nieces and wonderful nephews.
Bobís final touchdown in the greatest-of-all corals will be in Sunset Memorial Gardens in Richland, WA under the direction of Einanís Funeral Home where services are scheduled for Sunday February 24, 2008 at 2pm. Donations in Bobís memory can be made through Einanís to the Healthwell Foundation who so graciously assisted with the significant expenses associated with his treatment.