Remembering Brother Rafer Johnson

The world has lost an incredible human being. Brother Rafer Johnson (UCLA) entered the Chapter Eternal on Wednesday December 2. Rafer was one of the most inspirational people I’ve ever come to know and certainly one of Pilam’s greatest examples of a role model. That we can call him our Fraternity Brother is our extreme privilege. His life – his accomplishments, where he dedicated his time, and the extreme humility he showcased – is an example for anyone to follow. I strongly recommend every Pilam take time to Google Rafer and read some of the stories and watch some of his videos. I promise, you’ll be impressed and inspired. Although no post we make could ever adequately capture the magnitude of Rafer’s extraordinary life, allow us to share a few things that made him so very special.

  • Rafer was a spectacular athlete who earned an Olympic Gold medal in the most grueling event possible – the Decathlon.
  • He was team U.S.A.’s flag bearer at the 1960 Olympics – the first African American to ever have that honor.
  • He was named one of ESPN’s 100 Greatest North American Athletes of the 20th Century.
  • He served on Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential election campaign and then apprehended RFK’s assassin.
  • He helped organize the first Special Olympics competition in 1968 and then co-founded the California Special Olympics in 1969 going on to serve as its president for 10 years.
  • He lit the 1984 Olympic flame – the first African American to ever have that honor.
  • He was an actor and starred in many movies including the James Bond movie, “License to Kill”.
  • He authored “The Best That I Can Be” which tells his incredible life story.


About Rafer as a Pilam

Rafer joined Pilam in 1955 and in doing so, was the first African American to join a fraternity at UCLA. While Rafer was excelling at sports, he was also serving as student body President, serving as an Officer of the Chapter, and was a good student academically. We honor Rafer’s legacy yearly with the presentation of the “Rafer Johnson Award”. This award goes to our most outstanding undergraduate member as evaluated by their achievements and contributions in the areas of athletics, scholastics, and service to the community, to the college, and to the Chapter. Rafer would personally sign a copy of the book he authored “The Best That I Can Be” for each year’s winner.

Paying our respects

We grieve the loss of Rafer and pay respect to him by issuing a period of mourning. Throughout the month of December, our coat of arms will have a black band diagonally across the center of the face of it in such a fashion to obscure the words Pi Lambda Phi.

1) We are collecting any memories and stories about Rafer that we can add to our archives and also share with his family. Thank you to those Brothers who have already sent in stories and photos. Email them to

2) You can donate in Rafer’s memory. On our donation page make the gift as a tribute in honor of Rafer by selecting “Honor” and then type Rafer’s name. Click here to donate today in honor of Rafer.

3) Check out his autobiography. It’s an incredible story and can be found on Amazon: Click “The Best That I Can Be” to see it.


Thank you Rafer for the incredible life you lived, all the people’s lives you’ve touched, and the extraordinary example you have set not just for Pilams, but for all people. You’ll be forever missed and never forgotten.


Brother Mine Forever,

Ian Lowe

Executive Director