We are saddened to announce the passing of Rafer Johnson, founder of Special Olympics Southern California, humanitarian, & Olympic Gold Medalist.

Over the past 50 years, Rafer was involved in guiding Special Olympics and spreading acceptance and inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities throughout Southern California and the world. We have lost one of the biggest champions for people with intellectual disabilities. Please post your memories of Rafer Johnson to share with the Special Olympics community.

Remembering Rafer Johnson RSS Feed
Post a New Story
Rafer Johnson will be greatly missed.

Rafer Johnson interviewed my son, Michael, at Cal State Long Beach where my son was competing in the Special Olympics swim meet. Rafer was doing a TV special and he interviewed our whole family because Michael was being presented an award for "Most Improved Athlete of the Year". Rafer watched Michael win his swim meet and when Michael got out of the pool, Rafer wrapped the towel around Michael. It was one of the sweetest and most humble thing I've seen from such a great man. It brought tears to my eyes. I loved seeing Rafer every year after that when Michael competed in the California state games in swimming. He was a sweet and wonderful man and he will be greatly missed. 

unfinished business

I was fortunate enough to be part of the opening ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, Ca. During the culmination of the ceremonies Rafer Johnson was to run up a really scary ladder and pass on the Olympic flame to the giant urn that would burn for all time. I was so scared for him on this perilous journey that I started to pray for his saftey. He made i , but I never had the chance to share that story with him. :(

The tremendous loss of a dear friend

Words cannot express what the loss of Rafer means to not only me, but so many he impacted in his incredible life.

We first met in the old Long Beach Chamber of Commerce office in 1968 where several of us got together for what became the birth of the Western Special Olympics. After several organizational splits to other states and even in California it is now Special Olympics Southern California. 
The key from day one was Rafer Johnson. He gave the program credibility unmatched. 

Dixie and I send our deepest condolences and love to the Johnson Family. We also thank Betsy, Jennifer, Josh and the rest of the Rafer Johnson Family for being involved in Special Olympics and making it possible for Rafer to maintain his extraordinary involvement and love for the program he helped take worldwide. 

I loved Rafer like a brother,

Ed Arnold, 

Founding Western Special Olympics board member &

Retired sportscaster 



I will miss seeing you

As a Global messenger, I had the privilege of seeing Me Johnson up close in Santa Monica at Pier Del Sol.  He always acknowledge me with a nod and a smile when I would say hello to him. I will miss seeing him there.


Krystal Johnson


      Although I never met Rafer Johnson, I feel as though I knew him. I attended UCLA  for a short while, remember hearing about his amazing athletic talents as a Bruin, attended some of the special olympics events held during summer months on campus and seeing him and Eunice Shriver there, recall seeing his amazing accomplishments during his participation as an Olympic athlete, sadly recall his involvement in helping to capture the assailant during the assasination  of Robert F. Kennedy, and remember seeing him participate in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles as a Torchbearer. 

     I have had a few family members participate as volunteers for special olympics of Southern California.  When I recently retired from teaching I was so excited to be able to also become a volunteer for the Special Olympics Of Southern California.  Once again, there he was, Rafer Johnson, as speaker, guest,etc.. at the Special Olympics of Southern California at Long Beach St College. He never stopped volunteering and giving so much of himself!   He will be missed so much by so many people!!

He truly was an Angel amongst us !!


i do special olympics becuse of  Rafer Johnson case he masde is possibule for pepole with disublitys have a place where they can do sports and make new friends in diffrent areas of the world and have fun doing it and not get juged by anther pepole 

Remembering Rafer Johnson

Who could forget Rafer Johnson's winning the 1960 Olympic decathalon gold medal against his friend and UCLA training partner CK Yang?

Or the scene at the Ambassador Hotel, when Rafer and others rushed Sirhan Sirhan who had just shot RFK? Or his lighting the cauldron at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles? 

I was truly in awe in getting to meet and know this gentle and humble hero through Special Olympics Southern California.

PLUS, my SOSC athlete partner and I actually beat Rafer and his partner at bocce ball. What a joyous memory!!!


We are donating this to Rafer Johnson in memory of Paul Silverstein who passed recently from cancer and all the Special Olympians who have passed.

Donna McCrary Garcia.

Tribute to great man

My daughter Danna and I met Rafer Johnson at UCLA 1996 State meeting for California . My daughter won , 1 gold , 2 silver and a bronze metals for swimming. We were in one of the malls and Rafer spotted Danna with all her metals around her neck. Her gave her a thumbs up. We chatted a little. Such a kind man , so generous a man he was. 

of course I had to explain who Rafer was, he's was in my 1960's era. 

so proud an honered to have met him.


RIP, Rafer, the man. 

Donna McCrary Garcia

Remembering Rafer

I first met Rafer in 1993, the first year I was invited to be an Honored Guest at the California Special Olympics. Rafer was very welcoming and kind to everyone and immediately made me feel welcomed and comfortable. Over the 25 years that I attended the SOSC as a Honered Guest, I got to experience many unforgetable  moments with Rafer. He was one of the finest people that I have ever met. He will be truly missed.


Remembering Rafer Johnson
He wasn't just a Founder, he was a supporter and mentor that touched the lives of every athlete including me. He always takes time to talk to each of us and makes us feel included as he also likes to be interactive with all of us
But most importantly, He was a great friend to all
He will be truly be missed
Remembering Rafer Johnson

I first met Rafer nearly 20 years ago and was immediately struck by his humility and genuine kindness.  A relentless champion for SOSC and its participants.  His legacy is of one who made history; one of phenomenal achievements as an Olympian and, even more important, servant leader.  

May we live each day in a manner that pays tribute to the profound differences he made in the lives of so many.

Michel R. Moore, Chief of Police

Los Angeles Police Department

Olympic Torch Relay 1996

 I Met Rafer in 1996 During the Olympic Torch Relay in Los Angeles. He was Charming, Kind and Warm. Over the Years, I would see him at the Market or Car Wash and he was always quick with a Smile. Rafer was an LA Treasure and a Global Ambassador for the Special Olypmics. Prayers for his Wife Betsy and his Family. May Rafer's Memory Always Be a Blessing. Rest in Power Rafer Johnson. Suzanne Lewis

Remembering Rafer Johnson

I'm gonna miss meeting this guy at the Anaheim Hilton where
I was named 2012 Special Olympics Athlete of the Year for Special Olympics Athlete of the Year for all of Orange Orange.

Live how Rafer wants us to live.

Rafer Johnson was my friend, mentor, and role model, and I am saddened by this loss. One lesson I am glad my friend taught me was how to be a great storyteller, because that is how I connect with so many people all over the world like he did. I am going to miss seeing him at Special Olympics events, and I feel the best way to honor Rafer's legacy, is by living our lives by his motto, “Be the best you can be."

To Have Known Rafer Johnson

 To have known Rafer was to love him.  He was always kind and thoughtful from the day we first met at U.C.L.A.  and my memories of him have stayed with me

since the 1950's when we were classmates at U.C.L.A. 

 He was the most magnicent speciman of an athlete as a young man ,and he would take one's  breath away to see him perform at field events at U.C.L.A.

We occasionally would run into each other over the years and it was always with  a smile and a kind word.  He gave his  life's work to a very charitable cause and

I am sure he has assured himself a righteous  place in heaven.



Best memories with Rafer

One of my fondest memory that I have of Rafer.. Riding on the World Games Float in the Rose Parade, being part of the World Games Boatd with him. 
 I always thought of Rafer being Father Figure to all of us Special Olympics Athletes.

Debi Anderson- Athlete / Global Messenger/ Athlete Leader


Rafer Johnson on competing at USC

Some years ago, we had one of our SOSC Board meetings on the USC campus.  Rafer was an avid UCLA Bruin.  During a break, I asked him how he felt about being on his rival school's campus.  He replied, " I was always pretty comfortable being on this campus especially since I won a lot."


I. Love doing special Olympics southern California because of refer johsion and all the staff members of special Olympics southern California


Remembering Mr. Rafer Johnson, An American Hero

I will always remember Mr. Rafer Johnson for helping to subdue Robert F. Kennedy's assasin in 1968. Rest on Power Mr. Rafer Johnson, from FANS 4 HELP.

Meeting rafer johnson

I met him a fall games he was a very nice guy