ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Robert H. “Bob” Johnson, a champion for open government and a former Associated Press executive who during a 42-year career wrote AP’s first bulletin on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, has died. He was 84.
After retiring from the news cooperative in 1988, Johnson helped start the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government and made a new career out of fighting for public access to government meetings and records.
Johnson suffered a stroke Saturday morning as he prepared to go to work at the foundation. He died later that evening.
“He was a workaholic all his life, and was right up to the end,” said his wife, Luise Putcamp Johnson.
Paul Stevens, an AP regional vice president, said, “I’m among many people in the AP who owe their careers to the mentoring and example that he set in his roles with the AP. I’ll really miss him.”
A native of Colorado City, Texas, Johnson joined AP in Dallas in 1946 after serving as a U.S. Marine lieutenant in World War II. He was recalled to active duty as a captain in the Korean War.
On Nov. 22, 1963, Johnson was serving in Dallas as Texas bureau chief. He was in the newsroom of the Dallas Times Herald, adjoining the AP office, when he heard editors talking about an unconfirmed report that President Kennedy had been shot.
Johnson ran back to his desk, slipped paper in his typewriter, wrote “BULLETIN” and “DALLAS” and awaited word from staffers covering Kennedy’s visit. Wire photo operator James “Ike” Altgens, who doubled as a photographer, alerted Johnson that he was just 30 feet away from Kennedy when the first shot was fired.
After confirming the facts with Altgens, Johnson turned to his typewriter and wrote the bulletin: “President Kennedy was shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy. She cried, ‘Oh, no!’ The motorcade sped on.”
While in Texas, Johnson also oversaw coverage of the Gemini and Apollo space flights from the Houston Space Center.