In memory: Robert B. Johnson

Robert Britten Johnson, age 90, of Fort Collins, passed away March 28, 2015, with his wife of nearly 68 years at his side.robert b johnson

He was born on September 24, 1924, in Cortland, New York, to William and Christine Hofer Johnson. He graduated from Cortland Jr.-Sr. High School in 1942. He attended Wheaton College in Illinois until Jan. 1943, when he voluntarily joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. After serving three years as a crew chief and aerial engineer in the Troop Carrier Command, he returned to Wheaton College as geology major. He transferred to Syracuse University where he graduated Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1949. He remained at Syracuse for his master’s degree in invertebrate paleontology, which was granted in August 1950.

He received a University Fellowship at the University of Illinois at Urbana where he began a Ph.D. program in exploration geophysics with the affiliated Illinois State Geological Survey. His specialization was in applying refraction seismology to the mapping of glacial deposits. Upon being granted the degree in June 1954, he took a position as assistant professor in the Department of Geology at Syracuse University, where he taught invertebrate paleontology, the subject of his master’s degree.

In January 1955, he was offered a position as senior geologist with a consulting company in Urbana, Illinois, which specialized in developing underground gas storage systems and brine fields for the alkali industry. In 1956, he was offered a position as associate professor at Purdue University in the Engineering Geology Department of the School of Civil Engineering. At Purdue he expanded his research reach to the engineering properties of aggregate materials and related statistical analysis. While at Purdue he successfully pioneered the teaching of geology by closed-circuit TV. He took advantage of a sabbatical in 1963-64 to spend the year at the Geology Department at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL. Bob spent the year in computer programming and research applications in the southeastern US. Upon returning to Purdue, he was made full professor and head of the department. He continued to teach and conduct aggregate materials research for governmental agencies. In 1966 he was named Head of the Department of Geology at DePauw University in Greencastle, IN.

In 1967 he was offered a position as full professor of geology in the Department of Geology in the College of Natural Sciences at Colorado State University. After the first year he was named Chairman of the Department and remained so until the department merged with the Watershed Sciences Department of the Forestry College to form the Department of Earth Resources. He served as acting head of that department from 1979-81. He remained at CSU until retirement in 1988. During his years at CSU, he worked during the summers as regional geophysicist for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for nine years. At that time, a sabbatical with the Engineering Geology Branch of the U.S. Geological Survey brought an end to this association and resulted in 12 years as geologist with the USGS during the summers working on landslides and rock-slope stability.

Sandwiched in these busy summers were a number of years teaching field geology in Rocky Mountain National Park and environs for the Rocky Mountain Nature Association. He also taught Elderhostel groups for the YMCA of the Rockies and for Colorado State University at its mountain campus for many years until retirement. Professional activities during these years included chairing the Rocky Mountain Section of the Geological Society of America, whose annual meeting was held at CSU. He is a senior fellow of GSA. He served as chairman for six years of the Committee for Exploration and Classification of Earth Materials for the Transportation Research Board of the Academy of Sciences. He conducted week-long training sessions on air photo applications in forest engineering for the US Forest Service for a number of years. He is the senior author with a professional colleague of the Wiley text, Principles of Engineering Geology. They received the E. Burwell, Jr. Memorial award from the Geological Society of America in Recognition of Distinguished Contribution to Engineering Geology and the Claire P. Holdridge Outstanding Publication Award in Engineering Geology from the Association of Engineering Geologists. Bob is listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in Science and Engineering, and Who’s Who in the World.

Aside from his professional life he was active in church as a Sunday school teacher of high school and adult classes among other responsibilities, Bible study and youth groups, worked with the Boy Scouts as merit badge counselor, worked as a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) volunteer for the IRS, Science Fair judge to name a few.

His love of the mountains and their geology, narrow-gauge railroading history, birds, animals and flowers provided many exciting times and numerous opportunities to enjoy his lifelong hobby of photography.

Bob’s marriage in August 1947 to Garnet Marion Brown began a wonderful life of friendship and joy that started in a chemistry class at Wheaton College. It has remained so for these many years as they shared family activities with their three children, Robert B., Jr., Richard and Elizabeth. Together, Garnet and Bob reached their academic goals and continued an exciting life in a variety of places and activities, always sharing the same faith and enjoying God’s amazing earth and its beauty through camping and traveling.