Roberta Bishop Johnson, Esq. died at the age of 69 from complications arising from breast cancer.
The text below was submitted by Sue Ann Kendall, La Leche League Online Communications Manager. An edited version appeared in the La Leche League Journal, NEW BEGINNINGS, Volume 17 Number 5, September-October 2000, page 171.
Roberta Johnson was one of the earliest La Leche League Leaders after the Founders began our organization, and she started the first Group in south Chicago. I remember she told me that a physician bussed a huge group of women from Indiana to her very first meeting in her small home–and she had only attended one meeting prior to becoming a Leader! She survived this using her characteristic pluck and optimism. She also wrote hundreds of letters to breastfeeding mothers, back when there was a system where different Leaders were assigned different states to correspond with.
Roberta continued to work with La Leche League through the years, and in the 70s undertook two cookbook projects. The first was Mother’s in the Kitchen, and the second was our beloved Whole Foods for the Whole Family, which she edited and put together LONG before the advent of word processors. This time was one of her favorites, and she often spoke of how wonderful the women who edited the various chapters were, and how fun it was to get to know the women who submitted recipes. We have Roberta to thank for the fact that the cookbook contains nutritional analysis, which was uncommon at the time. In fact, the kinds of recipes that the LLL women submitted were all uncommon, and our cookbook really was ahead of its time. No wonder so many of us still treasure and use it often.
Roberta was an incredibly intelligent, stubborn, funny and opinionated woman who survived many family and personal challenges thanks to her attitude toward life. After her two children, Lisa and Eric, were grown, she returned to school at the University of Illinois and became a family lawyer. She had seen so many women badly treated in divorces, that she decided she could continue to help others in this way.
After becoming a lawyer, she was instrumental in the formation of the LLLI Legal Advisory Council, of which she remained a member until her passing.
She was always growing and learning. I met her in a computer user group in 1987–she was the only member over 40! We were in other organizations together, and I found that by talking to her, gradually, her ways of thinking sunk in. It is thanks to Roberta that I breastfed my babies, and thanks to her prodding and prodding that I finally dragged myself to a La Leche League meeting in 1991.
Roberta encouraged me to keep learning new skills while I was a mother at home, so we took classes together, including ones on the then-new world wide web. She hinted that I might practice by making a web page for my local Group. The next thing I knew, she was propping me in front of LLLI’s Executive Director and declaring, “This lady will make you a web site.” Three months later, the site went live, and here I am today, still working!
Little did I know she had this all planned! That is the way Roberta was. When she wanted something done, she kept pushing until it happened. Those of us who knew her treasured her advice and no-nonsense appraisals of ourselves. When she faced cancer, we all learned from her positive attitude and watched as she educated herself to where she knew as much as the doctors. Throughout her ups and downs, she always said, “Life is a gift; that’s why they call it the present,” and, “I plan to live forever. So far, so good.”
It was a happy day last July when Roberta received LLLI’s Award of Appreciation for all that she did for our organization (see photo above). She asked me if she got it just because she had cancer, and I said, “No, I didn’t mention that in the nomination form, silly!”
I hope that this story, with all my personal information in it, serves to show you a little bit of what a treasured friend and mentor Roberta could be–not just to me, but to many, many other women through the years. Even if you did not know her personally, someone who has helped you breastfeed successfully or who has helped you in your LLL work probably has been influenced by her, so her legacy of love will live on and on.
Please take a moment to thank Roberta for all of us.