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Robert Edward Johnston

Robert Edward Johnston

Robert Edward Johnston died suddenly while jogging on September 20, 2017. He was born September 11, 1940, the son of the Ezekiel Bennett Johnston and Kathleen Connelly Johnston of Pine Bluff. Robert was a graduate of Pine Bluff High School, Rice University, and Columbia University. While at Rice he was an all-Southwest Conference football player, playing in the Sugar Bowl and the Bluebonnet Bowl, and was awarded academic all-American status by President John F. Kennedy. He was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys but declined in order to accept a Rhodes scholarship for study at Oxford University.

He was a retired professor of political science and economics at UALR and the US Military Academy at West Point, former chairman of the Arkansas Public Service Commission, appointed by then-Governor Bill Clinton, and former member of the Arkansas legislature, representing the Quapaw Quarter and East Little Rock.

A lifelong Democrat, Robert was a passionate advocate for public education, a champion of refugees, an early and avid supporter of women’s rights and environmental causes,
and a committed demonstrator for peace and racial justice. He founded an all-volunteer charity, “Feed the Hungry,” which fed breakfast five days a week for twelve years to the homeless of Little Rock. A frequent contributor to the “Letters to the Editor” page of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette and the Arkansas Times, Robert was a constant gadfly spurring the “haves” to acknowledge their responsibilities to those less fortunate. He taught Sunday school at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and was a member of “The Old Guys’ Book Club.”

Also an avid outdoorsman, he summited eleven 14,000 ft. mountains in Colorado and the 19,000 ft. Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa. He ran dozens of 10Ks and 5 marathons, but claimed his most dramatic running was 3 miles at an 8 minute pace with President Bill Clinton, twice from the White House and once in Kiev, Ukraine. He became a lifelong skier after learning to ski while teaching at West Point and also made many canoe trips around the country.

He lived abroad in both Indonesia and the former Soviet Union, while working as a consultant to the US Agency for International Development, and loved to travel the world, including annual trips to Scotland.

Robert is survived by his sister, Joann Johnston, of Little Rock and his son, Jay Johnston, (daughter in law, Christy; grandchildren, Lena and Duncan) of Washington, DC, as well as longtime companion, Matilda Buchanan.

The funeral will be at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral at 2:00 p.m. Saturday, September 23. Memorials requested to Trinity Cathedral lecture series, Central Arkansas Library System, Little Rock Arkansas Salvation Army “Feed the Hungry” program.

Condolence Book

"I feel so blessed to have become of member of Trinity in time to get to know Robert and to participate in his adult formation classes. He was a brilliant, compassionate man and this world is a darker place without him. Rest in peace, friend.

Paula McCauley-Shelton | North Little Rock, AR |

"Robert was a senior at Rice University when I was a freshman, and was in the same residential college. He was truly an inspiration to me and other underclass men, and earned our affectionate title as "The Old Rugged Jock". One knew that he would make a positive difference in this world as he certainly did. My sincere condolences to his family and friends "
Robert Toone | Union Hall, VA |

"To the family,

Robert left a legacy to remember; there is no greater parting gift than a life well lived and service to human beings. For those who are religious, he was welcomed in heaven by many, of this I testify.

Love to you all,

Ed Red"

Edward (Ed) Red | Provo, UT |

"My deepest sympathy to the family."
Coach Harold Tilley | Monticello, AR |

"Robert was my mentor and hero. We volunteered side by side serving breakfast to the homeless wherever we could.
His legacy of helping the homeless and the least of us will live on.


Dixie Richards | BENTON, AR |

"So proud to have known Robert and his sister, Joann, growing up in Pine Bluff. May God bless and keep all Robert's family."
Hames Ware | Little Rock, AR |

"Robert and I went to the same church and he lived just a few blocks away....always a good person and friend.

Fred Jonas | Hot Springs Village, AR |

"Our condolences to all who loved and admired Robert Johnston. We shared a meal just weeks ago - now, a treasured memory. Today, we attended his funeral - crowded by heartbroken family and friends. His death ,while out jogging reminds me of ENOCH, the Biblical figure. GOD loved ENOCH and the two faithfully walked together for years. One can imagine a weary, aging ENOCH turning to GOD and saying: "I am tired. We are near where I live, so come home with me GOD. Then, GOD replied: "No ENOCH, you come to my home." As good a man as Robert Johnston was, it may have only seemed he was alone on that jog. Surely angels were surrounding and as the Bible verse reads: 'AND HE WAS NO MORE.'"
Audrey Burtrum-Stanley & Jim Stanley, Jr. | , AR |

"Having had Joann as a good friend for over 50 years has allowed us the opportunity to know Robert as well. Robert was someone who really wanted to make a difference for the betterment of the world, and for his endeavor he has succeeded beyond what most people achieve."
Johnita & Robert Lebow | Houston, TX |

"I shared Robert's class in Will Rice College at Rice. After 1962, I saw him at reunions, but what a wonderful life he led. And what an example for us.Ashride"
William Pannill | Houston, TX |

""The World, the Earth really mourns and cry out to the loss of Robert. Such a great person whose works shall never be forgotten. He was such a caring individual, and we all admired him, as his good attitude held others up while they were falling. If not for His caring, I would not have the job I work today. After my downfall in life, Robert extended to me "A Second Chance" and I will never forget Him. I practice daily to follow his suggestions in Life which he never had to talk about, just Live it. Give and keep on Giving, and Your reward for Giving, whether it is money, your time, or just give any part of yourself, your reward will exceed higher than you can think, or Imagine - but God knows and your reward from Him, God, will be more valuable than life itself. God bless his family. "It will ALL be Alright".
Ameedah Munir/North Little Rock,AR/"

Ameedah Mnir | North Little Rock, AR |

"And he will wipe out every tear from their eyes,+ and death will be no more,+ neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore.+ The former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) This prophecy tells us that one day we will see our dead loved ones again in a new world! Please seek Jehovah God to see his promises fulfilled....."
CM | , GA |

"Robert was my mentor and "model" when I arrived at Rice omn 1960. He was two years my senior and had been successful at all the things I aspired to - football, campus politics, engineering, ROTC.

Like me, Robert had been admitted to Rice's engineering school on his academic credentials but also won a full athletic scholarship (a rare combination in those days). He was a star engineering student and major student leader. He finished Rice as a Rhodes Scholar and the top ROTC officer. For his military service he was given the highly prestigious assignment as a professor at West Point.

These honors were unheard of for a major athlete, which Robert certainly was - all Southwest Conference and Academic All American, famous for "manhandling" legendary Texas Tech linebacker E.J Holub his senior year.

Robert was also committed to public service. Many thought he would get Senator Fulbright's Arkansas seat someday. (I believe he was even married to Fulbright's daughter for a while.) But many missteps and unlucky breaks intervened in his political career. Nevertheless, he held a senior position when Bill Clinton was Governor, was head of the state's utility comsision, and held prestigious academic posts. He also served admirably overseas in the Agency for International Development in Indonesia (where I last saw him) and elsewhere.

There have been few like him; we will miss him. God Bless and Rest in Peace.

Jan Lodal | McLean, VA |

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