Remembering a True Bruin

Campus Update

Dear Bruin Community:

This morning we were profoundly saddened to learn of the passing of Rafer Johnson, one of the most honored and cherished members of our Bruin family. Rafer’s career and accomplishments are widely and rightly celebrated. But beyond the headlines and medals, what distinguishes him in my eyes are the truly outstanding qualities of character I have witnessed in him. I will always remember his genuine warmth and compassion, his driving sense of civic responsibility and his unwavering commitment to service and the well-being of others.

Rafer achieved much in his life both as a student and athlete at UCLA and as a first-rate Olympian. But personal achievements were not the full measure of his success. While he could have comfortably stayed satisfied with a life of success and celebrity, he threw himself into a life of service because he wanted to do more, be more and give more. The poverty and racial discrimination he suffered as an African American child fueled his racial justice activism as an adult and contributed to the highly developed sense of compassion that led him to help found the Special Olympics in California.
One thing he said stands out for me especially. Reflecting on his involvement with the Special Olympics, he recalled: “There was no way I could have achieved what I did without a lot of people helping me, from my coaches in high school, at UCLA…people who helped me when I was growing up. That’s how you get over some of the hurdles in life, some of the obstacles.”

That commitment to helping others get over the hurdles in life — be they racial discrimination or developmental disabilities — was clearly a driving force for Rafer. He reminds us that everyone needs the help of others at times and that all of us can extend our help to others as well. Helping those who need it may be the truest Bruin value of all.

I offer my deepest condolences to Rafer’s entire family, including his beloved wife Betsy; his daughter, Jennifer Ann Johnson Jordan; his son, Joshua Ray Johnson; his son-in-law Kevin Jordan; as well as to all those whose lives he deeply touched. His impact on the Bruin community and our nation cannot be overestimated.

Rest well, Rafer. We promise to keep the best of you alive in us.


  • Gene D. BlockChancellor