Cover photo for Robert L Johnson's Obituary
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1946 Robert 2021

Robert L Johnson

October 18, 1946 — October 25, 2021

Robert ("Bob") L. Johnson (Maj. USAF Ret.), 75, of Summerville, husband for 53 years to Elizabeth Johnson (Baker), left this worldly plane for the heavens on October 25, 2021, surrounded by his family.

Born on October 18, 1946 in Cleveland, Ohio, Bob was a son of the late Gradon L Johnson and Ruth I. Johnson.

Robert and Elizabeth met and earned their bachelor's degrees from Earlham College, in Richmond, Indiana. Following graduation and while attending a PhD program in chemistry at Ohio State University, Bob would receive his draft notice and became a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Though originally expecting to flunk out of pilot training and get a desk job - having never even flown in an airplane until his flight to military training - the fact that the first plane to be flown had less horsepower than his car set the challenge. Once he progressed to jets, he was in heaven - and in the heavens. His Air Force career would have him serve as a pilot and instructor in T-38s and a pilot and instructor in both the B-52 bomber and the U-2 high altitude spy plane. Flying his first U-2 solo on April 11, 1979, Bob was only the 366th man to fly this amazing aircraft, joining the elite U-2 brotherhood.

While in the Air Force, Bob was awarded the following medals and honors: Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with Two Oak Leaf Clusters, AF Commendation Medal with One Oak Leaf Cluster, AF Outstanding Unit Award with One Oak Leaf Cluster, Combat Readiness Medal with One Oak Leaf Cluster, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, AF Longevity Service Award Ribbon with Four Oak Leaf Clusters, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, and AF Training Ribbon. Bob was also presented with a Bluenose Certificate from the U.S. Navy for having crossed the Arctic Circle entering "the land of icicles, blizzards, williwaws and myriad snowflakes aboard the good ship USS Nimitz (CVN-68)" on September 18, 1980.

As a pilot instructor, he often said - in his own sarcastic way - "I use fear, sarcasm, and ridicule to ensure they fly safely." On a visit to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., he carefully reviewed the names on the wall for the relevant years, then turned to his family and said, "None of my students are on that wall." His pilot training yearbook included a photo of Bob with the caption, "My gradebooks are perfect," and likely they were. He rarely admitted to being wrong, probably because he rarely was. Glioblastoma - he recognized - was taking the brilliance that was Bob and he was heard to admit in the past year, "I made a mistake. I make them now." Emphasis on the now. He taught his children everything from physics and calculus to how to invest in the stock market and how to gap spark plugs for a car. An avid Mopar enthusiast, the first new car he and Elizabeth purchased in 1971 remains a family heirloom, fully restored and with just that perfect rumble of an engine that harkens back to simpler times.

In addition to his wife, Bob is survived by his daughter, Wendy Johnson Keefer, and her husband Sean Keefer of Charleston, South Carolina, and his son, Erik Lee Johnson and his wife, Julie Johnson, and three grandchildren, Brennan, Kathryn ("Kat"), and Gradon ("Grady") Johnson of East Hampton, Connecticut. Bob is also survived by his brother Bill Johnson and his wife Donna, his brother, Tom Johnson and his wife, Teresa, and nieces Rachel and Denise and nephews Matt and David. Bob is also survived by his uncle, Bevington Wince (Sylvia).

A memorial service will be held after the family has some time to heal and to toast this amazing man with many of their family and friends. Bob would want no sadness and said following his diagnosis, "I led a full and good life. If I die in my 70s, I die in my 70s. Why whine about it." His family now strives to adopt his ever-present calm and strength.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in Bob`s memory may be directed to the MUSC Foundation/Hollings Cancer Center, 18 Bee Street, MSC450, Charleston, SC 29425 or online at (specifying that the funds be used for glioblastoma in Bob's honor) or to the Glioblastoma Foundation

Expressions of sympathy and the sharing of your own stories of Bob may be viewed or submitted online at

Military Honors and other arrangements for the Memorial Service have been entrusted to McALISTER-SMITH FUNERAL & CREMATION, Goose Creek, 869 St. James Ave., Goose Creek, SC 29445, (843) 553-1511.
To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Robert L Johnson, please visit our flower store.


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