Sabrina Johnson

Photo by Doug Buerlein

At one point in her career, Sabrina Johnson was well on her way to the bench.

In the early ’90s, she earned a law degree, passed the bar, worked for Alexandria Circuit Court, and had aspirations of becoming a juvenile court judge.

Luckily for Mary Washington, Johnson’s personal and professional life had come to a turning point, and she felt it was in her family’s best interest to move. She took a job as a counselor with the Department of Employee Relations in Richmond, and her career turned away from the courtroom.

October will mark 15 years since Johnson joined the UMW team. As associate vice president for human resources and affirmative action-equal employment opportunity officer, she deals with issues involving personnel policy and employment laws; handles concerns and complaints from employees and students; provides management consultation; and heads an eight-person staff. While juggling all this, she tries to stay ahead of issues that might crop up.

“You know what it feels like sometimes? A minefield. It can be mentally exhausting,” said Johnson.

Johnson never looks tired. But don’t let her polished appearance and proficiency at her fast-paced position fool you. She likes to kick off her shoes now and then. “I’m known for my heels. What folks don’t know is that there are times when I just kick them off and walk barefoot around campus,” said the woman who only carries purses large enough to accommodate her pumps.

Johnson’s workday starts when she opens her eyes to her blinking Blackberry. She answers emails while she gets dressed.

At her office, she works to classical music in the morning, jazz in the afternoon. When she’s there late, she depends on the movie The Count of Monte Cristo to keep her on track. “If it plays through twice,” she said, “it’s time for me to go home.”

Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree in administration of justice and public safety and a master’s in public administration from Virginia Commonwealth University. Her doctorate is from the College of William and Mary’s Marshall- Wythe School of Law. While earning the law degree, the single mother was raising daughter Rena, now 28, and son Ronald, 26. Thanks to her five siblings, she wasn’t alone.

“I had lots of help,” she said. “I have a phenomenal family – large but very close.”

Johnson’s past titles include director of residence education at VCU, where she also taught dance, and executive director of the Richmond Black Student Foundation. She’s been on the Virginia Council on Human Resources since Gov. Mark Warner appointed her in 2004.

But her proudest professional achievement, she said, is earning that law degree. “It represents to me what I can find within myself.”