NEW ORLEANS — The identities of Rex 2019, the King of Carnival, and his queen were revealed to members of the Rex Organization and the public on Saturday. Rex 2019 is Robert S. Boh, the president and CEO of Boh Bros. Construction. His queen is Kristina Britt Johnsen, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Erik Lee Johnsen, and a junior at Vanderbilt University.
Boh, a New Orleans native, Jesuit High School and Tulane University graduate, is the son of a former Rex – Robert H. Boh, who was King of Carnival in 1998. He has fond memories of the Carnival reign of his father, who died in 2017. “He was a pretty low-key guy but I’ve never seen him as excited about anything he did as he was with this,” Boh said. “And honestly it carried on for the rest of his life because I think there was a camaraderie among past kings that was very noticeable as the years went on. It was something that each year he would really look forward to Mardi Gras because of that connection.”
Boh joined his family’s construction company right out of Tulane. He became company vice president in 1986 and president in 1994. The company’s name is well-known on the streets of the city – literally – as it performs heavy and highway construction, marine, water, sewer and industrial work throughout the Gulf South.
“Boh Bros. was founded in 1909 when Arthur Boh built four houses on the corner of what is now Jeff Davis and Banks Street. His brother Henry, my grandfather, joined him in 1919 and that became the start of what we now call Boh Bros.,” he explained.
Boh and his wife, Ann Patterson Boh, are highly-regarded philanthropists. Their generosity followed a family tragedy. In 2009, one of their three children, Michael, died of cystic fibrosis.
“After that happened it was a very sad time for us but as we thought about what we might do to bring some meaning to Michael’s life, and to remember him, we turned our attention to philanthropy and trying to help organizations in the community that service children and families,” Boh said.
He and his wife have been very generous donors to a recent capital campaign for St. Michael Special School, which is renovating the chapel where Mother Teresa stayed during a visit to the city. In addition to St. Michael, the Bohs have been generous supporters of the Good Shepherd School which offers low-income students a free Catholic-centered education. It was founded in the Central Business District by Rev. Harry Tompson, S.J., former president of Jesuit High School.
“Good Shepherd has been very successful, outgrew the school and had a plan to build a new school and we wanted to be a part of that,” Boh said. “So we’ve made a significant gift to their capital campaign and they’ve moved into that new school this past fall and have basically doubled their enrollment so they’re doing great work.”
Other examples of the Boh’s generosity include a major gift to Ochsner for a child development center. He also supports the Youth Empowerment Project. “They provide after school programming, education, work readiness training for underserved kids, kids that maybe the school system has lost and children who have a great potential, but needed to be helped a little bit.”
Boh serves on the board of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the New Orleans Recreation Development Foundation Board and is a past director or board member of Catholic Charities, the Boy Scouts of America, Louisiana Children’s Museum and many other nonprofit and educational institutions.
“It’s a great honor to be selected Rex. I want to represent our organization well. I’m so proud of what Rex does for the community through the Pro Bono Publico Foundation and other good works, and so to be asked to be the representative of that group - as proud as I am of what they do, it is truly an honor, so I can’t wait, I’m excited.”
This year’s Queen of Carnival, who goes by her middle name, Britt, graduated from high school in Mobile, Alabama, but her roots in New Orleans run deep. Her grandfather, Erik Frithjof Johnsen, was Rex 1991. Now 93, he loves sharing memories of his reign with his granddaughter.
Other family members with Rex ties include John Koerner III, an uncle who was Rex 2008; Charlotte Lane “Laney” Langenstein, a cousin, who was queen in 2015; and many aunts, uncles and cousins who have been maids or dukes in the Rex court.
For many years, the queen’s grandmother, the late Dolly Ann Souchon Johnsen, instructed kings and queens of Carnival in court etiquette. She herself reigned as Queen of Carnival in 1949. To mark the 70th anniversary of her reign this year, Britt asked dress designer Suzanne St. Paul to help her pay tribute.
“Suzanne is a fabulous dressmaker and when we found out it was my grandmother’s 70th anniversary we wanted to incorporate that into my dress,” Johnsen said. “So parts of my dress nod to the chevron pattern that was on hers, specifically along the bottom of mine.”
Wearing the dress at the Rex ball is one of the things the queen says she is most excited about.
“I actually have never had the chance to go to the Rex ball because I was always too young and then I ended up going to college and never had that opportunity and what a way to spend my first Rex ball as Queen of Carnival.”
Britt seems to thrive on new experiences. How many Queens of Carnival have we seen go bungee jumping? That was during her semester abroad in New Zealand last year. At Vanderbilt, she’s majoring in human and organizational development, with a minor in psychology. She hopes to work in nonprofit fundraising and development after graduation.
Like all Carnival royalty, for the past year, she’s had to keep her selection as queen a secret from her friends at school. She got around that by inviting them to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Only she didn’t have to tell them why. “It lines up with spring break which is really nice. So all of my friends were going to be in town anyway, which luckily made it a little bit easier. But now they have to bring a ball gown in addition to what they normally would wear to Mardi Gras,” she said.
“I am so honored and unbelievably excited,” she said of the honor of being chosen queen. “I absolutely love Mardi Gras so I know this is going to be a really special way to celebrate.”