At our 30th a card was out to sign for Ro Johnson who was too ill to attend our reunion. The card was filled with friendly and heartfelt messages for this popular guy. Unfortunately, our efforts were for naught. Ro would be at reunions no more.
Ro Johnson was a member of our class from day one and made an impression on all who were around him. Roseanne Mandel Levine said that “he was always enthusiastic about everything, to the point of being gregarious. He made ordinary situations hilarious and fun.” Regina Yarchever remembered that Ro “was truly a gentlman…even at 17!! and he had such a spirit of Aloha!! He will be missed!”
Several recalled that he was a member of the Punahou orchestra. Said Gaye Miyasaki: “I remember when I was in the Punahou Orchestra with Ro, I asked him how come he stayed in the Orchestra all these years when several of our friends dropped out. He said he loved playing the bass!” Marcia Wright also shared music and other memories: “I played bass with Ro… He was a great guy in HS. And he came to my college [California Lutheran University] for one semester until he karanged his knee in football and had to come home.. Good memories of Ro.”
A college-time memory was shared by Gigi Dennis Ewing: “When I was at college in Washington [Whitworth College, now Whitworth University], my roommate and I went on spring break to California. We ran into Ro at the Ghiradelli Chocolate shop at Fisherman’s Wharf in SF…so totally random! But it was great to see him. I think it was Spring of 1976.”
As Marcia noted, Ro was a football player. Bobby Chinn has another memory of Ro’s football prowess: “On the gridiron he was a hard-nosed player who went all out and hit pretty hard. I can’t remember if he played offensive guard or linebacker but either way, if you were on the opposing team during game time, he wasn’t such a nice guy to meet.”
Bobby also bumped into Ro after Punahou: “I ran into Ro two or three times during the 13 years that I worked at Castle Hospital in Kailua from ’91-’04, prior to his falling ill and my move to the mainland. I believe he was visiting or accompanying family members who were there for one treatment or another. Each time I saw him he greeted me like a long-lost, best friend which, of course, was how he made everyone feel. He was one of the warmest and genuinely nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. A co-worker at Castle whose father had flown in the Air National Guard with Ro and with Ro’s father had kept me up to date with Ro’s activities through the years. I’m just glad that I had a chance to see him during those years in Kailua.”
Some of the most heartfelt memories are held by class members who spent time with Ro outside of Punahou. Barclay Bullock remembers “going to a family Luau out at his place on north shore, great time. Also remember going water skiing in his boat along with John Morgan and being in the dog house for breaking the light on the back of the boat. Ro was always such a positive person and knew how to have fun!”
Ted Pryor offered: “Ro and I were cribmates together! We were neighbors in the late fifties in Kaneohe (near also Bonnie Judd ’73) where his family lived and there is a picture somewhere of us together at age 3 months! We spent a summer together clearing brush on Maui as teenagers. His mother Claire Johnson (former Miss Hawaii) supplied flowers (www.flowerfarmhawaii.com) to my wedding in Michgan. I seem to recall he won the ‘best looking’ hoss award once upon a time, which he said he hated. Yes, he was alwasy upbeat and fun! He was a lovely guy from a lovely family.”
Jim Howerton described his memories of Ro as “comfortable” and wrote that:
Ro Johnson’s father Kurt and my father flew together in Korea in the Air Force in 1953. When we moved to Hawaii our introduction to Ohana was at the Johnson’s in Kaneohe where I met Ro and Arna and Koa, who was in diapers. Ro treated my brother and me to a canoe trip to the island in the bay by their house, taught us the names of many of the fish we saw and tempted us to grab the baby hammerheads that were swimming in the shallow water. Every visit to the Johnson’s had some kind of similar adventure.
When I came to Punahou there were so many things to do and learn that I would only occasionaly cross paths with Ro but he always had a kind question and a smile on his face. We didn’t have many classes together but that never seemed to make a difference.
By coincidence my good friend Scott, who lived in Aiea, joined the Hawaii Air Guard and became friends of Ro and his dad Kurt. By the time I returned to the islands for the first time in 1985 he and Ro had become a team, flying together frequently. The three of us played a few games of racquetball and went sailing. It seemed as no time had gone by rather than twelve years. I saw Ro almost every time I was back in the islands. The sense of ohana that the Johnson family first introduced me to seemed to be part of Ro’s essence. Ro had a presence that made people gravitate to him and a way that made every one happy that they knew him.
My friend Scott kept me apprised of Ro’s illness, his initial remission, the death of his father and finally, Ro’s passing. I am sad that someone who was so outgoing and inclusive is no longer there.
On October 29, 2009 Arna Johnson offered a pictorial tribute to her brother, Ro. Writing a blog post titled, “Happy Rojo Day!!!”, she posted some wonderful pictures of him along with this:
Today we celebrate the life of my brother Ro, a true gift to his family and everyone who knew him. If you didn’t know him you may have heard of him. He was an F-15 pilot with the Hawaii Air National Guard and a Captain for Hawaiian Airlines. It was this day three years ago that he moved on to serve a greater purpose. It was his heartwarming smile, his sincere kindness, and his sheer love and zest for life that is most mentioned about him.
“Rojo” was Ro’s call sign when he was flying for the National Guard. Arna says that she likes to celebrate the fact that Ro’s spirit is soaring, “so we call it ‘Happy Rojo Day’.” Soaring, yes. Just as we all knew he would.