You think you know a guy… I’ve known Robert Emmet McGrath my entire sentient life and never knew that he had a connection to my state. Better known as “Bob Johnson,” he was the human in your neighborhood on Sesame Street from 1969 to 2016. To the sadness of young and old kids worldwide (particularly those of us kids who became parents), our most cheerful neighbor passed on December 4 at the age of 90 from complications of stroke.
Bob attended the University of Michigan school of music, and it seems appropriate that he honed his skills early on as a member of the glee club. His positive and encouraging presence and his gracious ensemble performances on Sesame gave focus to his Muppet co-stars, and reinforced the core philosophies of Children’s Television Workshop – learning, caring, kindness, inclusion, self-esteem. Bob’s gentle and sunny tenor voice was a familiar comfort to me as a child navigating a baffling and hurried world. Still a cast member when my kids were born, Bob’s voice reassured me as a parent navigating a baffling and hurried world.
I noted his passing the same way I usually note celebrity deaths – I got a text from my wife and we shared an “Aw, I liked him” moment – and then I went about my day. But Bob’s passing has stuck with me. A lump comes to my throat and tears well in my eyes as I remember little-kid me, vulnerable and curious, moving around the Midwest as my father relocated our family. Bob and my Sesame Street neighbors were real; I was there on the stoop with them. Bob was a guide and a counselor, but most of all a friend who was reliable and understanding. There was no such thing as a rerun, just a reminder.
Yes, Bob had a connection to my state of Michigan, but he has also had a connection to my state of mind and the state of my soul. As I continue to seek my footing in this world, I’m grateful for the solid ground of the Street with Bob and my neighbors.
Thanks for being there, Bob. Everyday.
Here’s a rare bit with Bob and Kermit, before Kermit took up with some pig and moved uptown: