It was a simple yet meaningful exchange between Bob and the mayor.

Semper Fi.

Any United States Marine quickly can tell you what that means, as it's the universal brotherhood motto among American Marines.

Semper Fi is Latin, short for "semper fidelis," and translates to "always faithful."

Marines are a tough bunch, and they are fierce about their loyalty and how it is measured.

Farmington Mayor Bill Standley, a former Marine himself, no doubt knew Bob was a former Marine, too. Thus the exchange he initiated between the two.

"Semper Fi."

"Semper Fi."

Funny thing, though.

This exchange came while the two actually were opponents.

Bob and myself sat with a lawyer on one side of the room, while the mayor sat behind attorneys on the other side.

We were, and remain, opposite parties in a lawsuit, in which this newspaper and the Foundation for Open Government, or FOG, is battling the city of Farmington for access to what we feel are public records, and the mayor obviously does not.

Despite our disagreements, there is a great deal of respect shared among the courtroom participants.

Bill and Bob proved that.

They spent more than one courtroom break sharing old war stories, so to speak.

Although the trial ended with a ruling in favor of the newspaper, the city appealed. Sadly, however, Bob won't be there during the next go-around for more storytelling during the breaks, or to sit beside me and share decades of journalism experience while watching the lawyers do their deed.


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Bob died Saturday.

***

Bob Johnson was the founding director of FOG, a true champion of open government and thus democracy; and more than that, he was a bulldog of a journalist.

Listen to this:

Guess who The Associated Press bureau chief was in Dallas when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated?

Yep, Bob. He fired out the very first news bulletin that shocked the entire world.

It was Nov. 22, 1963.

"President Kennedy was shot today just as his motorcade left downtown Dallas. Mrs. Kennedy jumped up and grabbed Mr. Kennedy. She cried, Oh, no!' The motorcade sped on."

The world came to a standstill when it read Bob's words.

I did, too, when I heard him reflecting upon it as we sat for lunch at a restaurant in downtown Aztec.

My publisher, Sammy Lopez, kindly picked up the tab, no doubt just as entertained by seeing his eager editor play the role of a cub reporter as he was to hear Bob oblige with his recollections.

"Bob, what else do you remember about all that? What about behind the scenes?" I quizzed.

"I remember it sure was a long time before I could take a shower!" he quipped, recalling the many consecutive long hours after the shooting that he and the staff in Dallas spent getting the story of Kennedy's death out to those they knew were clinging to every bulletin.

"What else?"

"I remember a lot of people worked their butts off," he said. "We knew the whole world was watching."

***

Had I known it was Bob's 84th birthday, I'd have brought him a card, something with a bit of humor on it.

It was the second day of the trial, but celebrating a birthday by fighting for open government was no doubt right up Bob's alley.

He had a knack for fights to protect freedom.

Bob was a U.S. Marine lieutenant in World War II. After the war, in 1946, he joined the AP, only to be recalled to active duty as a captain during the Korean War.

He could be quite the crusty character.

Looking at my bookbag as I sat it down on the counsel table between him and the lawyer, he gave me an evil glare.

"Reuters! What the hell are you doing with a Reuters bag!?" he demanded.

Embarrassed, I didn't realize the bookbag was one given to me at a previous editors' convention in Washington, sponsored by AP's rival, the Reuters news agency.

"I didn't even notice!" I grinned and pleaded in ignorance. "I promise, I'll have my AP bag next time."

He grumbled I'd better, knowing about my own connection with AP as a member of the national board of directors for the Associated Press Managing Editors, an organization dedicated to keeping a close connection between AP and its cooperative membership, which extends to the very heart of grassroots America.

I'm sitting here, as I write this, looking at an AP award on my desk, presented to me and The Daily Times for past work in contributing our own stories to the famed wire service. The award includes a quote from Mark Twain, made in 1906.

"There are only two forces that carry light to all corners of the globe; the sun in the heavens and The Associated Press down here."

I can't help but wonder what Mark Twain would have had to say if he ever met Bob.

It likely wouldn't be in Latin.

***

Don't make the mistake of thinking Bob's only claim to fame, other than his fights, was the Kennedy story.

He moved to New York in 1969 to become AP's sports editor.

For me, the world only gets smaller at this point. It was here that Bob met an AP staffer by the name of Jack Simms, another guy who knew how to fight on the battlefield or with his pen, and another guy who taught journalism by the old-school book of getting it hard and fast, and darn sure right.

Jack Simms, you see, later became a professor of journalism, and was my first teacher of the art at Auburn University.

Jack was no easy teacher. A weed-out course required all students to score 85 or higher on all four tests during the quarter. If you scored 100, 100, 100, and 84, guess what? You failed.

I won't mention how well I did or didn't do when I took Journalism 101, but I will share that Jack sure inspired me with his tales of AP glory in how he was involved in one big story after another. A country boy like me found that kind of thing pretty fascinating, not to mention worldly and heroic.

So it became. My own career in journalism.

And who was my teacher's teacher?

Bob Johnson.

"Yep, I remember Jack well. He was good," Bob told me.

You might think that when Bob went to sports, he got away from the really big news stories of the day.

Hardly.

Bob was managing the coverage of the 1972 Olympics.

For those of you short on memory or history lessons, that was the Munich Olympics.

Once again, Bob was thrown into a wildfire of bulletins as the world watched, only this time after a group of terrorists massacred Israeli athletes, shocking everyone and putting the Middle East, via Munich, into the centerpoint of military buildups and new threats of global war.

"It was a big story," Bob modestly commented.

***

Bob moved to Albuquerque as AP's bureau chief in 1984, and said New Mexico is where he wanted to finish his career.

He retired in 1988, only to soon find himself involved in creating a group dedicated to fighting for open government.

"This stuff is important," he said more than once.

He firmly believed that the fight for open government is as important to America's freedoms as those freedoms he fought for as a Marine in World War II.

"Who knows what these guys would do if nobody is allowed to watch them," he'd say.

I was elated when Bob agreed to come visit our staff this autumn. I wanted him to come talk about open government, but I also wanted him to fire up the troops by sharing the importance of his career as a journalist, how it was so much fun to live the job and make a difference in this world.

He was to visit us here in Farmington, N.M., in October. We planned to write a story about his chat, and about his battlefield heroics with a pen instead of a rifle in fighting for a true democracy.

Bob was that kind of dedicated man.

Bob died Saturday, of a stroke.

Semper Fi, my friend.

Semper Fi.

Troy Turner is the editor of The Daily Times. He can be contacted at P.O. Box 450, Farmington, NM 87499; or at tturner @daily-times.com.