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1961 NFF National Scholar-Athlete Robert Johnston from Rice Passes Away
The All-Southwest Conference selection and Rhodes Scholar was 77.
Published: 9/22/2017 9:41:00 AM
Robert Johnston, a 1961 NFF National Scholar-Athlete from Rice University, died suddenly while jogging on Sept. 20. He was 77.

A Rhodes Scholar, Johnston embodied the scholar-athlete at Rice. A three-year letterman for the Owls, he established himself as one of the most outstanding linemen in the South and the finest football players in the Southwest Conference.

His junior year, the Pine Bluff, Ark., native led the team in minutes played, and he was named to the All-Southwest Conference Team. In 1962, the starting tackle received the Bob Quin Award for the senior male athlete who most exemplifies the distinction in sportsmanship, leadership, service to the university, scholarship and athletics. In 1973, Johnston was inducted into the Rice Athletics Hall of Fame.

A mechanical engineering major and a straight A student, Johnston graduated as the top man in his class. He participated in Rice’s ROTC program, heading the ROTC Camp and earning a reputation as an “outstanding military student.” A member of the Dean’s list, he chaired the Honor Council, and he held several positions in student government.

Upon graduating, Johnston was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, Houston Oilers and Calgary Stampeders. He chose to play for the Cowboys, but he changed his path after receiving a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford University. At Oxford, Johnston lettered in basketball, and he participated in rowing and rugby, all while receiving degrees in economics, politics and philosophy. When he returned to America, Johnston put his ROTC training to use, serving in the military doing airborne and ranger training. He taught at West Point for three years.

Johnston continued his education at Columbia where he received a Ph.D. in political science and economics. He then returned to his home state of Arkansas to teach at the University of Arkansas for 13 years while also working in the Arkansas legislature. He was appointed by then-Governor Bill Clinton as the chairman of the Public Service Commission, which regulates 85 utilities with $3.5 billion in revenues. After his time as chairman was up, Johnston became an international consultant for the United States, living and working in Ukraine, Armenia and Indonesia.

Johnston 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, Ark.

Also an avid outdoorsman, he summited eleven 14,000 ft. mountains in Colorado and the 19,000 ft. Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa while also running in dozens of 10Ks and five marathons.

He 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, D.C., 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.

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