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Robert L. Johnson Sr., XU grad and football player, dies

Robert L. Johnson Sr.

Robert L. Johnson Sr.


     January 19, 2011


     NEW ORLEANS — Robert L. Johnson Sr., a Xavier University of Louisiana football player more than 60 years ago and a Chicago developmental optometrist, died Dec. 1 in Chicago of complications from diabetes. He was 80.
     Johnson was born July 27, 1930, in Helena, Ark., and raised there. He graduated from XU in 1951 and opened the Plano Child Development Center in 1959. He helped thousands of children by providing low-cost or free vision exams and therapy, often resulting in improved academic achievement and behavior.
     "That was his proudest achievement," his daughter, Paula Jones, told the Chicago Tribune. "He was able to help so many children, especially in the African-American community, who never had access to eye care."
     Johnson was the grandfather of Arizona Cardinals Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry

Fitzgerald, who credited his football success to Johnson's series of complex visual drills to strengthen hand-eye coordination.
     Johnson earned a football scholarship to Xavier and was a lineman on Gold Rush teams coached by Alfred Priestley. (Xavier played intercollegiate football through 1959.) After graduating from XU, Johnson served in the Army at Fort Bliss, Texas, in one of the military's first integrated companies. He later was assigned to the 7th Infantry Division at Camp Carson, Colo., and then deployed to Korea. He was a combat medic and a Purple Heart recipient before his discharge in 1953. He then worked in the Chicago post office, eventually becoming a supervisor and tour director at the main office.
     Johnson was the father of five daughters and a son. His wife, the former Mercedes Sylvest, was a 1953 XU graduate. Johnson received his master of science degree from the University of Chicago in 1954 and his doctor of optometry degree from the Illinois College of Optometry in 1960.


 

 
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The Xavier Gold Rush and Gold Nuggets compete in Division I of the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) as a member of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC). Xavier fields men's teams in basketball, cross country and tennis and women's teams in basketball, cross country, tennis and volleyball.

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