If you ever visit the sunny shores of Indian Rocks Beach, you may spot Prep alumnus R.B. Johnson '79 transplanting sea oats, a hobby of his that provides critical vegetation and ensures a healthy beach for all to enjoy.
"That was a way of giving back to my community and trying to benefit it environmentally in the long run," Johnson says.
But Johnson's service to the community of Indian Rocks goes far beyond tending to the dunes.
For 18 years, Johnson served on the Indian Rocks Beach City Commission, acting as mayor for the last 10. Prior to his time on the commission, Johnson had been involved in various civic affairs, but running for local government wasn't necessarily on his to-do list. However, he felt an obligation to his community.
"You should be able to give back to the community that nurtures you," he says. "Especially, if it's a place that you love and care about."
Johnson's ties to Indian Rocks Beach are longstanding. His family has owned property in the area since the '30s and his grandfather was co-owner of the iconic old fishing pier, which was the longest in Florida before Hurricane Elena destroyed it in 1985.
|This doodle by R.B. Johnson was the first iteration of Prep's terrapin mascot.|
As such, Johnson was a vocal advocate for preserving the "quaint, charming, small-town atmosphere" of Indian Rocks. Fighting battles against the intrusion of taller condominiums and overdevelopment put Johnson in the public eye, and when a vacancy opened up on the city commission in 2000, many Indian Rocks residents prompted him to run.
"They knew that I cared about this community," he says.
About eight years later, the community would look to Johnson again and encourage his run for mayor.
Johnson says the city was going through some tumultuous times, with warring factions and budget difficulties, when he ran for mayor.
"There was just sort of an ugly atmosphere," he recalls.
Over the course of his stint as mayor, Johnson, with the help of his fellow commissioners and city staff, was able to "calm the political waters" and put the commission back on track, something he views as his biggest accomplishment in government.
"We really righted the ship here at Indian Rocks Beach after a few years and have maintained it ever since," he said.
|Johnson, second from the left, poses with the staff of The Distant Drummer, Prep's student newspaper.|
Reflecting on his service as a city commissioner, Johnson looks back to when he was editor of Tampa Prep's student newspaper as "a microcosm of that sense of responsibility to give back."
"In a sense, that's what a commissioner is doing," he says, drawing a parallel between the work of a reporter and elected official. "You're always on call. You're answering questions, providing feedback, making decisions in the best interests of your community."
Johnson won't be seeking reelection in 2018, but he doesn't plan to stop being a positive force in the Indian Rocks Beach community any time soon.
"It's a duty to try to do best by your community," he says, remembering the Prep motto. "It goes all the way back to Prep and the notion of higher purpose than self."