A solemn, loving Mass for Bob Johnson

Folding chairs had to be set up in the church aisles to accommodate the overflow crowd attending the funeral of former state Sen. Bob Johnson, who was remembered Thursday as one of Sarasota’s most influential citizens over the last half-century.

Nearly 600 people crowded into the Church of the Redeemer downtown, many of them leaders in politics, education, the arts and other realms where Johnson was a prominent advocate before his death last month at 80.

Friends and family joked about Johnson’s forceful personality, marveled at his energy and cataloged the long list of achievements from a career that included 16 years in the state Legislature, a successful legal practice, volunteer work with a range of nonprofit groups and twice leading the New College of Florida board.

New College President Donal O’Shea said Johnson’s ā€œlegislative achievements were legion.ā€ They included helping to rescue the college when it was a struggling private school by bringing it under the umbrella of the state university system.