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June 2019

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Kenneth R. Johnson

Retired Ninth District International Representative Kenneth R. Johnson died on Feb. 28. He was 83.

According to family lore, Johnson's grandparents moved by covered wagon from Texas to Southern California sometime in the late 1800s. His father, Verel, became a member of El Centro, Calif., Local 447 and later served as a Ninth District international representative. Local 447 was amalgamated into San Diego Local 569 in 1980.

Kenneth was born in 1935 in Imperial, Calif., and was initiated into Local 447 in 1952. In the mid-1960s, he served as the local's recording secretary and on its executive and examining boards before beginning a four-year stint as business manager in 1968.

In 1972, then-International President Charles H. Pillard appointed Johnson an international representative for the Ninth District. At the time, retired Local 569 business representative Rick White was a young journeyman wireman serving on Local 447's executive board.

"Kenneth approached me about running for the business manager position," said White, who ended up winning election then and twice more after that. "He mentored me for several months and assisted me with tactics to use in negotiations with the Imperial Irrigation District."

Two of Johnson's brothers also were journeyman wiremen, as was his son, King, a member of Local 569 who died in 2013.

"For us, the union has been a family affair," said Johnson's daughter, Paula. "The IBEW took care of our family for sure."

Although he was a dedicated and busy unionist, Paula said that her father always managed to spend time with her, her son, Ryan, and the rest of the family. "He was a really good dad and a great provider," she said. "I remember a lot of times on a Saturday or Sunday, he would tell us, 'We're going for a drive.'"

Johnson also was a hunting and fishing enthusiast, and Paula recalled how on more than one early Thanksgiving morning he would take his family pheasant hunting.

"My dad was a union man through and through," she said. "He was very generous with everybody, just one of those guys who would stick by you."

Johnson would do anything for the IBEW and its members, White said, a sentiment seconded by former Local 569 Business Representative Kris Hartnett.

"Kenny was a dominating presence in any setting, but he was also a quiet listener," said Hartnett, who remembers working with Johnson on the negotiating committee for the local's residential agreement and at a grievance hearing.

"When he met you, he would shake your hand and look you in the eye," he said. "The handshake was very firm, so you knew who you were dealing with."

Hartnett recalled being dispatched by Johnson to deal personally with poor conditions at a job site where Johnson's son, King, was working, a long five hours' drive away in the Palo Verde Valley desert near I-10's crossing into Arizona. "I believe the contractor was afraid that Kenny might show up on his front porch," he said.

"I respected him for always telling it like it was even when I disagreed with him, and he always told the truth," Hartnett said.

Before his appointment as an international representative, Johnson served on a number of his local's committees, including the negotiating, safety, and apprenticeship/inside committees. He also was a one-time executive secretary/business manager for the Imperial County Building and Construction Trades Council, and he was a member of the IBEW-Carpenter National Joint Jurisdiction Committee.

"Kenny lived and breathed IBEW," said Cecil Wynn, a retired Ninth District international representative who worked closely with Johnson.

Wynn recalled how Johnson could always be found on the front lines defending electrical workers, whether it was in the face of the sometimes-violent protests against the construction of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant near San Luis Obispo, Calif., or in the IBEW's fight against companies' use of prison inmate labor on public works projects in Nevada.

"Kenny was who you were dealing with," said Wynn, who retired in 2007. "He was my hero."

Wynn said that Johnson also had a mischievous sense of humor. "Kenny used to pull jokes on people," he said, adding with a laugh that many of those gags — such as the unique way new international representatives were "initiated" into the Ninth District office — probably were not fit to be described in print.

A heart condition forced her father to retire in 1990, Paula said, a little earlier than he might have expected. Johnson's wife, Ilene — better known as Pinky — preceded him in death in 2017.

On behalf of the IBEW's members and staff, the officers offer our deepest sympathies to Brother Johnson's family.


Kenneth R. Johnson

Fred C. Robinson

Fred C. Robinson, a Georgia Power lineman who served his local as president before a long career as a Fifth District international representative, died April 16. He was 93.

Robinson, who retired in 1988, was initiated into Rome, Ga., Local 847 more than 40 years earlier after serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

He was so eager to serve that he and a friend fudged their birthdates and left high school early, said Dinah Brock, one of Robinson's three daughters. Not long after basic training, he was injured in a fall on a naval ship and medically discharged.

"He came back home and all the best jobs in town were with Georgia Power," she said. "The foreman said, 'I'll give you a job, but you need to go back and get your high school diploma.'" Her father went back to class, graduating from high school and later attending the University of Georgia's labor school.

As a young lineman, Robinson was assigned to Georgia Power's Cedartown location. There, he met his future wife, Jean, who worked in the company's office.

He quickly became an active member of Local 847, serving on the executive board, as vice president and then as president and acting business manager until he was asked to join IBEW's international staff in 1963. His local amalgamated with Atlanta Local 84 in 1971.

Robinson, who was on the road in the South as a representative most Mondays through Fridays, helped his daughters understand the value of unions. "He told us how unions were not only for a good wage, but they were for safety — in the mills, shipyards, everywhere, safety was a big concern, and that was something unions stressed," Brock said.

She called him "a godly man who knew right from wrong," thanks to a strong mother who raised him and his five sisters alone on the family's farm after their father died. "She taught them all to go out and work hard," Brock said.

Retirement gave him welcome time to spend with his family and pursue his hobbies. An enthusiastic baseball and basketball fan, he also enjoyed golf, pool, fishing and hunting. He was an avid reader who read the newspaper every day until his failing eyesight made it impossible.

Except for near-blindness, Brock said, he was still spry at 93. He had an apartment in an assisted living center where he loved playing Bingo — they let him use the same two cards, which he'd memorized. He spent the last day of his life introducing residents to old friends who'd come to live at the center. That night, he suffered a fatal stroke in his sleep.

Robinson's survivors include his three daughters, six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. His wife died in 2011.

Growing up, Brock fondly recalls playing with other IBEW children while their fathers met at the Local 847 hall. "The kids and the wives would be outside, while the men were all inside at the meeting," she said.

She knew that other families in their town were opposed to labor, divided by organizing drives by another union at a nearby textile plant. Schoolmates sometimes said unkind things to Brock and her sisters, knowing their father was a union man.

"I remember hearing people talk about the union like it was something really bad," she said. "But I knew it was something really good, or my daddy wouldn't have had anything to do with it."

The IBEW honors Brother Robinson's proud service and offers our deepest sympathy to his family.


Fred C. Robinson