Wednesday, December 02, 2020

A Tribute to Rafer Lewis Johnson, Olympic Gold Medalist who died today at 86

 I’m sad to report that I got an email today letting me know that Rafer Lewis Johnson, an Olympic Gold Medalist and the man for whom our own Rafer Johnson was named, died today at the age of 86.

I might never have known who this athlete was except that Rafer was named for him and we were told the reason why by Rafer’s first family, Ken and Marty, who took the naming of their donkeys to a high art form. Rafer’s mom Contessa was very much ready to give birth, and when they went to check on her the day Rafer was born, he was already being born. Contessa ran to her shelter where the delivery was completed, thus Rafer Johnson was running before his hooves touched the ground. He still runs, in a very fancy athletic way that makes me think of an Olympic athlete, so his name truly suits him, and every time he meets someone new and I say his name, they mention how distinctive it is - and I get to tell this story all over again and share the story of the man he was named for.

Over the years, I have read articles about Rafer Lewis Johnson, a Black athlete who retired from running after winning the gold medal and went on to have quite a remarkable life. One notable thing was his friendship with Robert F. Kennedy. Mr. Johnson was present at RFK’s assassination, and tackled and wrenched the gun from Sirhan Sirhan’s fingers. The death of his friend left him traumatized and depressed, but he went on to help launch the California Special Olympics and remained involved with that cause the rest of his life.

There are many more aspects of Rafer Lewis Johnson’s life that made him special. It’s a huge honor for our Rafer to be named for such a remarkable man. I encourage you to read about him in his LA Times obituary, HERE.

In this year of pandemic and the long overdue focus on Black lives, Rafer Lewis Johnson is a beacon and an inspiration. Our little Rafer Johnson and we are sad that he’s gone. His spirit lives on though, and I’m so glad we came to know of him. Rest in peace, Mr. Johnson.


Anonymous said...


This was a lovely tribute to the original Rafer Johnson! I am so glad that your Rafer Johnson lives on to honor Rafer Lewis Johnson!

With love,


billie said...

Marty, big hugs to you! Our Rafer Johnson is an excellent ambassador for his namesake and for love and acceptance. I hope that you are well and happy despite this very difficult year.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I didn’t really know I of this main and his story. He led a distinguished life and accomplished much. His name and legacy will live on with your little Rafer. Wonderful tribute Billie.

billie said...

Thanks, A - I didn’t know of him until Rafer came to live with us, and I’m so glad I learned about him. What a namesake for our Rafer.

Kathleen said...

Thank you for sharing this story and the obituary. I didn't know about him and his wonderful, inspiring life. So happy your Rafer Johnson continues to bring you joy.

billie said...

Thank you, Kathleen! I’m glad you read this and appreciate it. Our little Rafer Johnson is a daily joy. Today while mucking, he pressed himself between the handles of the wheelbarrow and stood with me at each pile as I scooped it up. He loves being close and I love having him there!