Cheryl P. Johnson, in her personal life as well as professionally, has fashioned a highly disciplined, go-get'em style.
Even over her new Blackberry (complete with speakerphone), Johnson crackles with energy. There's Johnson with her beloved bicycling group, clipping along on her 21-speed road bike, covering 40 miles in 100-degree-plus heat on a Saturday morning.
Or there she is rising at 4:15 a.m. on workdays, starting with a vigorous treadmill and weight-lifting regimen at the health club she's belonged to for nearly two decades. She is at her desk before 7 a.m., working until 6 p.m.
But perhaps the pièce de résistance of her personal life comes every Wednesday night when she and her mother visit the Heritage Gardens Nursing Home in suburban Carrollton, Texas.
Here, Johnson begins the evening as an ombudsman, acting as an intermediary between 120 or so residents and the nursing home. But the real fun kicks in later when Johnson takes charge calling out bingo numbers, with mom handling the pennies. The two of them often bring along refreshments, especially on holidays.
Johnson is an inveterate traveler, a holdover from her days as a flight attendant at Braniff International Airways when she literally worked the world. Her global explorations continue, mostly via bicycle trips to such overseas locations as Italy, Morocco and Thailand. "Well, I did put one foot into Burma when it was forbidden to cross the border, but don't tell anybody," she says mischievously.
Johnson is a constant avocational reader, spurred on by regular listening to books on tape while she drives some 50 to 100 miles every workday. A favorite book on tape of late was Janet Evanovich's "Twelve on Top," a novel about the often-comic escapades of a female bounty hunter.
Another recent favorite was "The Alchemist" by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, about the metaphorical search for worldly treasure and finding your heart. She also is drawn to books about world history, citing Thomas Friedman's "The World Is Flat" and Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything."
Again, as in her job, Johnson is fiscally prudent in her personal life. Asked what type of vehicle she drives--a silver 1999 Ford Explorer--she quickly notes, "And it's fully paid for."
Her fiscal conservatism is innate--or close to it.
Neither of her parents went to college (her father sold gravestones, her mother was a homemaker), and to get through the University of Minnesota as a Spanish major, Johnson had to work two jobs and live in Spartan rooming houses.
"I envied all the rich kids who were in sororities and partied all the time," she recalls. "But the struggles paid off. They made me stronger."
Johnson's college Spanish degree and firsthand usage while working a year in Mexico City teaching English to adults paid off, literally, helping her win the flight attendant job at Braniff, which flew many flights to Spanish-speaking countries.
From there her career literally took off.
She's divorced for 11 years with no children, but with mom living just eight miles away, many friends and a niece she helped raise that she is exceptionally close to, Johnson is content with her life.
"Marriage was a great experience, but I've been there, done that and got the T-shirt," she jokes.
She says she no longer fears the specter of the "Bag Lady Syndrome."
"Every single woman as she ages worries about becoming a bag lady," Johnson explains. "I don't think I have to worry about that anymore."
In fact, she says, "I feel like I'm at the peak of my career. I couldn't be in a better position financially--I have a beautiful home in Far North Dallas that's going to be paid off in four years. Plus, I'm in great health. That's because I've taken care of myself."
Adds mom, "And she keeps friends. They love her to death."
Mom's ultimate praise for her daughter--besides "I don't know what I'd do without her"--is: "She loves to give to people. She would give to people before she would take. She's always been like that."
September 1, 2006
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