When we lost Dr. Bob Johnson, we lost not only a big piece of history but also an advocate for the preservation of our local history.
Dr. Bob was the impetus for many causes. He was on the committee that made the performing arts auditorium a reality. He tirelessly tried to revive the summer Kodiak historical drama, “Cry of the Wild Ram.” He was a vigorous supporter and master of ceremonies for the annual multicultural forum, which celebrated Kodiak’s cultural diversity — not to speak of his involvement in the Millikens, a group of Kodiak folks who entertained crowds at the Crab Festival with songs and skits. He wrote many of them.
Bob’s parents — Dr. A. Holmes and Fostina (Frosty) Johnson — were also enthusiastic promoters of community causes. Through their efforts, Kodiak was graced with a public library — named in honor of A. Holmes.
Fostina was awarded the Volunteer Service Award by Alaska Governor Jay Hammond.
Dr. Bob and his family and peers grew up in what old-timers endearingly called “Old Kodiak.” In a panel discussion that took place during Museums Alaska, Dr. Bob and his peers talked about the “good life in Kodiak” hearkening back to a time when there was no electricity or hospital.
In 1938 the medical situation improved with the arrival of Dr. A. Holmes Johnson and his family. Without a hospital or clinic to practice in at first, Dr. A. Holmes performed surgeries on the Johnsons’ kitchen table. Fostina sterilized supplies in a pressure cooker. When Bob came home to the smell of ether, he knew that his father had operated on someone.
Rosabel Baldwin, a classmate of Dr. Bob, said she was Dr. A. Holmes’ first Kodiak patient.
She was nine years old when she fell off a cliff after straddling a slippery log. Someone brought her to the Johnsons’ where she was laid on the table.
She had severed a main artery between the upper palm of the right hand and her wrist.
Frosty lit the Coleman lamps for light, then she held Rosabel’s wrist while Dr. A. Holmes tried to find the artery that was bleeding.
Someone fetched Rosabel’s dad, who immediately came to the Johnsons’ house. Dr. A. Holmes told him that if he couldn’t find the artery, he might have to amputate her arm.
But Rosabel’s father said there was no way a one-armed woman could find a husband in Kodiak. She was destined to become an “old maid.” At that point, Dr. A. Holmes more aggressively looked for the bleeding artery. He found it and stopped the bleeding.
“I always admired A. Holmes,” said Rosabel.” Everybody had high respect for him. He had a black Ford. When he was needed, he would buzz through town.”
Rosabel said Dr. Bob, during his school days, was referred to as “Bobby.” She recalled his trips off island in his sailboat. He was looking for a wife, said Rosabel. One day he came back with his “catch” — Marian, who, like her husband, was an advocate for the preservation of Kodiak history. She eventually became director of the Baranov Museum, which now goes by a different name.
Kodiak owes a lot to the Johnsons. With the passing of Dr. Bob, their contributions have become more appreciated.