Robert Johnston
Robert Johnston

Brother Robert Johnston Passes               

The Bermuda Industrial Union is mourning the passing of former president, Brother Robert Johnston who passed away on Wednesday, January 15, 2014.           

According to Brother Ira Philip, in “The History of the Bermuda Industrial Union, ”Brother Johnston was 16 years old when he joined the BIU in 1948.  He was then being trained as a plumber by his father, Derrick ‘Shack’ Johnston, a plumbing contractor engaged in the post World war Two renovation of the Elbow Beach Surf Club. ‘Shack’ was an ardent ‘Gordonite’.  The men on his job were all union members.  They were extremely political, and their absorption in the excite of the historic 1948 General Election proved infectious to young Johnston.

“Suffice it to say, Brother Robert got an early start and good grounding in the labour movement.  When interviewed by this author in 2001, he was aged sixty-nine, and still going strong as the long-functioning Union Organizer.  During his unbroken fifty-one-year BIU membership, he had served under Mr. Martin T. Wilson from 1962 to 1964, as Vice-President.  When the Governor appointed Mr. Wilson to the Upper House of Parliament known then, as the Legislative Council, Robert was elected President.  He served in that office for the next nine years.

            In 1974, Robert became Union Organizer, when Ottiwell Simmons, who had held that post for several years, began his long term as Union President.

In 1959, while working at his trade at the U.S. Air base at Kindley Field, Johnston and Winston York, with some encouragement from their American colleagues, undertook to unionise fellow plumbers.  At their first meeting in the old, original headquarters building on Union Street, they formed a Plumbers Division, with Johnston as its President.  He became President of the Amalgamated Building and Construction Division of the BIU in 1962.

Subsequently, Johnston undertook many others courses at home and abroad.  In 1964, he represented the BIU at the 100th Annual Conference of the TUC.  For six years, he served on the General Council of the Caribbean Congress of Labour.  It was during Johnston’s tenure as president, that new foundations, with education as the cornerstone, were laid for the growth and development of the BIU.”

Brother Johnston retired as Chief Organiser of the BIU in September 2002.

On behalf of the Officers and members of the BIU, Sister Molly Burgess, General Secretary, offered condolences to Brother Johnston’s widow, Sister Nell Johnson.

Funeral arrangements are pending.