A black limousine led a procession of seven taxicabs down Broadway late Thursday morning, honoring Robert Johnson, the former owner of Bob’s Checker Cab Co., who died Sunday.
Johnson, of Millersburg, died at University Hospital from complications of a vascular surgery performed Aug. 23. He was 69.
Johnson’s company was a part of the Columbia community since 1982. He started with just $2,000, a 30-year-old base radio, six cars, six meters and pieces of broken radios, according to a book, “Taxi Taxi,” written by his wife, Elta Johnson.
“He and his wife slept on the floor of their office,” said Nina Hoover, manager of A-1 Express, a local transportation company. “They were unable to pay their first dispatcher, but she did not mind; she stayed because Bob was so nice.”
Despite humble beginnings, the Johnsons persevered and became owners of the only cab company in Columbia. At the height of Johnson’s career, he held every transportation contract in the city, a feat made possible in part by his personable nature.
“Bob never met a stranger,” Elta Johnson said. “He would pull over to help someone out, and by the time he was finished he and the person knew everything about each other.”
Johnson extended the same care to his employees.
“Bob was a wonderful man to work for,’’ Hoover said. “When I started working for him, we only got paid $2.30 an hour, but we didn’t mind. We were just happy to work with him.”
In 1998, Johnson retired after suffering a heart attack and a stroke. He passed on his expertise to his successor, Henry Hancocks, owner of A-1 Express.
“He helped me out a lot,” Hancocks said. “He use to come visit all the time, and his son even worked on some of my cars.”
Many of Johnson’s former employees work for Hancocks.
Dorothy Kleindienst, wife of David Kleindienst, minister of Intercontinental Church of God, said Johnson was always eager to help, even after his health began to decline.
“The last thing I remember Bob doing is coming in that last Saturday, and even though his health was failing, he was there at the door asking my husband if he could help with anything,” Kleindienst said.
Johnson’s family remembered him as a loving and kind man.
“My dad would do anything for anyone. He took in foster children, and I remember there being 20 people in the house at one time,” daughter Tenia Briseno said. “He wouldn’t turn his back on anyone regardless of what you did.”