Bob Johnson Special Edition 2024

Commissioner Robert Johnson

By Kris Polly

My deepest condolences to Mary, Carly, Gabe, and the entire Johnson family for their loss. Commissioner Johnson was a man of uncommon integrity. Always upbeat and friendly to everyone, he never said an unkind word or used bad language. A true problem solver, a minute or two into any meeting he would say, “We will work with you.” That statement always set a positive tone, and it was a promise he and his staff would keep. He had a “can-do” management style and a unique ability to make a serious point in a light-hearted way. With a small joke and a smile, he had an ingenious way of moving people forward while preserving egos and feelings. Always optimistic and thankful for every day, he would walk-run down the hallway on his way to his office at the U.S. Department of the Interior. As he passed by people’s doors, he would call them by name and say, “Good morning—it’s going to be a great day!”

Later in life, when he faced health and mobility challenges, he maintained his unwavering optimism and gratitude. No matter what he was going through, Commissioner Johnson always saw the silver lining and chose to be happy. He was a dedicated family man: Nearly every conversation brought a mention of his family, what they were up to, and how proud he was of them.

Those of us fortunate to have known the commissioner all have a personal story about how the man improved our lives. We can best honor the commissioner and his memory by following his example and treating others as he treated us.

The following is a reprint of the “Happy 70th Birthday, Commissioner Johnson” special issue magazine we produced in May 2021. The well wishes and comments it contains provide an understanding of the breadth of Commissioner Johnson’s life and how much he meant to those who knew him. A debt of gratitude is owed to former Regional Director Lorri Gray for the idea of the special issue magazine and Interior Solicitor Bob Snow and former Regional Director Terry Fulp for their help in tracking down so many birthday wishes from Interior and Reclamation people.

Kris Polly is the editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader magazine and the president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at