Origins: R.K. Johnson Hall

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R.K. Johnson Hall, the only non-rectangular residence hall, was built in 1977 as part of the third student housing expansion. It has several unique features compared with the other men’s halls. In addition to three floors of rooms, Johnson has a basement that includes:

  • A large meeting room
  • Music practice rooms
  • Post office boxes that alleviated the after-chapel rush to the campus post office

Johnson was also the first men’s residence hall built with air conditioning. In fact, its construction initiated the installation of air conditioning in the rest of the residence halls from 1977–78.

The hall’s built-in furniture was made on campus with the help of students. It is similar to the furniture that had been installed in most of the other dorms in the early ’70s.

Childhood and Education

Robert Kirthwood Johnson was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1910. When he was 8, his father passed away. At his father’s request, he and his brother went to live at the Odd Fellows Home orphanage in Lynchburg for the next 11 years because their mother could not support them.

At the home, Johnson was educated through high school. He was also put in charge of all the home’s automotive equipment and some purchasing. Although he was busy working and studying, he found time to play baseball, which earned him the lifelong nickname “Lefty.”

In 1931, Johnson moved to Florida to begin his freshman year at Bob Jones College. He studied religion and got involved in leadership positions on campus, including president of his senior class.

Business Manager

During Johnson’s senior year, Johnson assumed responsibility for the college’s bookkeeping after the business manager began traveling for the College in 1934. After graduating in 1935, Johnson officially became the business manager.

“(Bob Jones) was noted as a skilled financial manager, even during his early evangelistic career,” Dan Turner wrote in his book Standing Without Apology. “For him to turn over to a new college graduate such responsibility is an indication of the financial ability that Johnson possessed.”

Mary Gaston Jones, Dr. Bob’s wife, also recognized his capability. She said, “He came into the office as a scholarship student, but he was so capable and so charming and so kind and worked so hard that he was elevated to a most important position by the time we moved to Cleveland.”

As the business manager, Johnson worked with the school’s tight budget to carry out Dr. Bob’s vision of efficient financing, which impacted everything from dining expenses to construction costs.

In 1939, he adopted a new bookkeeping system and expense management for the school with the help of College friend and businessman John Sephus Mack. Mack inspected the school’s financial records and then offered to let Johnson receive training from his company accountants.

“College finances were restructured so that all operating overhead, including operational expenses, maintenance, and faculty salaries were covered by student tuition and fees,” Turner wrote. “This financial arrangement kept the College from relying on outside sources of income to meet the daily expenses of the school. Campus construction and special projects were financed by donation and fund-raising drives.”

In addition to managing finances, Johnson participated in the search for a new campus in 1946. Once the Greenville campus was chosen, he moved into a trailer on the site in order to oversee the construction.

He also served as University treasurer and member of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees.

Family Life

Although Johnson’s involvement at BJU often required him to work six days a week, he prioritized his family. He met his wife Guye during his college years when she visited the campus. When she began attending the next fall, he dated her and then married her three years later, a year after his graduation.

They had two daughters, Guye Ellen and Corretta, and Johnson was known for being kind and gentle toward them. “I always walked across the grass up to his window and knocked on it,” Corretta said in an issue of Voice of the Alumni. “He could have a room full of bankers and important people, but he’d just introduce me to them all like I was the most important person in the world.”

Biographer of Bob Jones

Johnson also found time to write the first biography of Dr. Bob called Builder of Bridges, published in 1969. He drew from 37 years of close association with him as well as extensive research. Johnson wrote in the book,

I went deep into the archives; I read the files of his correspondence; I visited the places of his childhood and talked with friends out of his past; I made an exhaustive examination of files of his evangelistic work …; I scanned newspapers of past years that gave detailed accounts of events as they happened; and I consulted with Mrs. Jones, Sr., beloved companion of this man, who was an eyewitness of his colorful career.

Death and Legacy

Johnson served as business manager at BJU until he passed away on Nov. 4, 1971, from a second serious heart attack while on vacation with his wife in Mexico.

He left a legacy of diligence and joyful service for BJU. “He left a place in my heart that no one else can ever fill,” Mary Gaston Jones said years after his death. “He was a son to me. I would go to Lefty with little things that annoyed me and things I thought needed a man’s help. He was my right hand. I said in a joking way to my husband that Lefty and I built the school.”