YEAR: 1989


If ever there was an example of New Zealand's Mr Rugby, Racing and Beer, then Albert John Robert Johnson must have gone close. The rugby fanatic, harness racing trainer-driver, and hotelier passed away recently after a short illness at the age of 73.

Born at Rangiora, he showed an early interest in horses and this carried on for the rest of his life. He was also a natural sportsman shining in tennis, football and most other sports. During his early days of farming he spent a lot of time with Ces Devine who became a life long friend. "He loved driving horses and was as game as they come," recalls Ces.

Reg Curtin trained for Johnson and among his winners were Paul Bunyan, Night Boy, Regal Comet and Smokey Belle. Although Curtin trained his horses Johnson always did the driving. He also enjoyed taking his horses to the West Coast where he had his share of success. The best horse he had was Black Tulip who won seven races whilst trained by Reg Stockdale, and once again all the driving was done by Johnson.

No-one loved their rugby more than he did, and after playing for Country and Canterbury B he continued his interest by following most of the All Black games, including tours to South Africa and England. In the late 40s Johnson bought his first hotel at West Oxford followed by terms at the Marine in Sumner, Yaldhurst and Prebbleton. It was in the latter two hotels where he further developed his trotting interests both with horses and lasting friendships.

He is survived by two daughters and a son.

Credit: HRWeekly 28Feb89

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