The Iliad’s longtime employee Bob Johnson passed away on January 24, 2022, of a massive heart attack. Bob was much loved for his sense of humor and his kindness; mention to him a favorite show or artist, and he’d probably come back in a few days with a DVD or tape for you. Bob loved (in no particular order) H. L. Mencken, the Boston Celtics, fried clam strips, cats, conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy’s assassination, Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda, old t.v. detective series, Edward Gorey, Broadway musicals, and pizza (preferably with sausage). Before working at the Iliad, Bob had been a musical theater actor, a joke writer, and a seedy movie theater projectionist.
Bob’s heart issues first started in 2019, and by early 2020 he was no longer able to work, which is why you haven’t seen him around the store for the last two years. However, he still visited several times a week, and his absence will be sorely felt.
Bob also owned three of our official bookstore cats: Torquemada, Helga, and Henrietta, who went home to live with him in 2013. Henrietta has now been adopted by fellow employee Lisa.
If you’d like to share a memory or a photo of Bob, please drop us an e-mail and we’ll add it to this page.
I’ve been a regular customer at the Iliad Bookshop for over 25 years…..and I always appreciated Bob’s kindness and his friendly personality. He was a really fun guy! He often commented on various books I purchased, with anecdotes, stories or jokes about various authors. Whenever I brought a book to the counter that he had read or was familiar with, he would tell me interesting details about it. Bob was witty and intelligent……and he had a great sense of humor. I always looked forward to our conversations and casual chats. Once I purchased “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’Dell. Bob said... “I remember this book…..I read it as a young kid and loved it.” We then had a conversation about the novel, its impact on kids growing up in the 1960s, and how it taught us about California history and Native Americans in an entertaining way. Another time, I bought a used copy of the Joe McGinnis book, “The Selling of the President 1968” and he excitedly said…..”Wow, this is a fantastic political expose!” We then had a 10 minute conversation about President Nixon and Watergate. It was obvious Bob enjoyed discussing politics….especially the Kennedy and Nixon eras. Sometimes I would see Bob stocking books in a faraway corner of the store. He always smiled and said “hi.” He liked telling me, in a whispered voice, whenever a famous actor, TV celebrity, musician or author was browsing inside the store. He once said to me…..”See that guy over there? It’s Gary Owens, the announcer from the 'Laugh-In' TV show!" Bob was a good man….he always had a smile and his kindness extended to every customer in the store. And he was never impatient when a customer had a demanding, obnoxious or frivolous question. In the years that I knew Bob, I never took his kindness for granted. He enriched everyone’s life by being HIMSELF. He was friendly, funny and interested in the world around him. Bob was a wonderful part of the Iliad Bookshop and I’ll always remember his enthusiasm for books and writers. I’m glad I knew him……thanks for letting me share my thoughts. ……….Patricia Nolan Stein
I was a childhood friend of Bob Johnson. We grew up in Pawtucket, RI together attending James C. Potter Elementary School, Goff Jr High, and Tolman High School. We also were boy scouts together in Troop 15 of Pawtucket. I knew him as a rebel who loved entertaining others, telling jokes, writing and acting in his own plays—all the while defying authority and questioning social norms with every fiber of his being.
Bob was raised by his mother, a single parent who encouraged his love of theater, films, and Broadway musicals. I remember he had the city’s biggest collection of comic books, Mad magazines and Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines.
Our elementary school doubled as a polling station, so we never had classes on national election days. As sixth graders, Bob and I campaigned for John F Kennedy outside the school in 1960, distributing campaign buttons and urging everyone to vote Kennedy for president. Back then, boys and girls were segregated on opposite sides of the school building for recess periods. After some minor infraction schoolyard rules, Principal Anna J Burns issued an edict that banned all “rough” play—including games of “tag”, yelling and even running on the boys’ side of the schoolyard—effectively denying boys from all six grades and kindergarten from having any fun whatsoever. Bob explained to everyone that if the administration was going to treat us like little children then we should all start acting as such—then he proceeded to organize two pre-school level games—-“farmer-in-the-dell” and “ring-around-the-rosie”—and the entire male student body played them in giant circles as a means of mass protest. I can still see Principal Burns and her staff glowering at us from their office windows as we laughed and danced in the school yard below.
In Boy Scouts, Bob always led the chorus at campfire singalongs. Camp Yawgoog, where the troop camped for an entire week each summer, gave him the chance to practice his standup comedy routines to the delight of the other scouts. When he was expelled from the prestigious “Eagle Patrol” for continually cracking jokes while a boring assistant scoutmaster tried to teach us Morse Code, Bob used that opportunity to recruit other scout misfits into an irreverent new group he named the “Yogi Bear Patrol”.
In junior high school, when a pair of 7th grade classes cut an 78 vinyl record of Christmas Carols which was performed for the entire school, Bob was one of two soloists and sang “What Child Is This”.
In high school…well…I’ve read something on the Iliad’s tribute page to Bob claiming he edited the high school newspaper. That assertion is absolutely untrue—and I hope that error will be corrected <NOTE FROM LISA: Corrected! Thank you, Roger!> because I’m sure Bob would take exception if he were still with us today. Bob Johnson never edited or wrote for the “Hi-Light”. He considered it “fluff”.
In fact, Bob was actually publishing his own weekly school magazine, without the fluff. He called it “Pasquinade”, filling it with humor and satire, while supporting civil rights on the one hand and poking fun of the school administration on the other. Copies sold for a nickel I think (to cover expenses), and the students loved it! Long lines formed on distribution day and issues sold out almost immediately while piles of the Hi-Light gathered dust. The school administration disliked Bob’s publication because it undermined their authority.
There is a photo displayed on your “Remembering Bob Johnson” page with the caption “Our Staff Inside the Pawt. Police Paddy Wagon…” The photo was taken when the school administration unsuccessfully tried to stop the distribution of Pasquinade magazine. Somebody wanted Bob arrested for selling copies on school property, but that didn’t happen because of Bob’s courage and absolute faith in the notion of a free press.
I lost touch with Bob after high school, but we connected by email, phone, and in person maybe once or twice a year for the last two decades. I will miss his warmth, his humor, his spirit. The world is a poorer place without him.