Mary Virginia Moore Johnson is a woman with an extreme past, and an extremely bright future. A professor in the Department of Accounting, Finance and Business Law at Southeast, Johnson teaches law courses - and with good reason. Her entire life has always been connected with the legal system.
After receiving her undergraduate degree in theatre at California State University, San Diego, Johnson launched a career in show business as an actress. She worked on stage and in television in New York City for some time. During that period, she was a member of Actor’s Equity Association, Screen Actors Guild, and she was elected to the board of directors for the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), representing 53,000 professional performers nationwide. As a performer and board member, she was frequently dealing with legal matters like performance contracts and labor negotiations.
As a child, Johnson grew up within the confines of the U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo. Her father was the chief surgeon and clinical director at the only hospital for federal prisoners in the United States.
“I was always around prisoners. Our family lived inside the barbed-wire fences. My mother even had two prisoners as housekeepers,” she laughed. “They didn’t stay long, though, because they weren’t very good at it. Each week the prisoners would cut the grass and trim the bushes. They even painted our house, but they wouldn’t let me help so one of the prisoners built me a sandbox and I got to paint that.”
Johnson speaks lightheartedly about her childhood, explaining she didn’t live in a “normal neighborhood,” but she still had the comfort of a close knit group, as only 22 houses were located inside the “reservation.”
“We never locked our doors, which was very normal,” Mary said. “My father always said that we didn’t need to lock the doors because the prisoners wouldn’t stay around to get caught if they ever tried to escape!”
What changed Johnson’s life completely was a temporary job she landed after retiring from show business. Working with a medical malpractice insurance company, she convinced her boss to let her learn a new computer system. She learned it in two weeks and ultimately taught others in the company how to use it. That got her hired permanently and promoted several times to the point where she was told she could not be promoted any higher without a Master of Business Administration degree. She said, “I can do that!” So she went on to earn her M. B. A. degree, and within a week after graduating, she got her first job teaching in Illinois.
Johnson has taught finance, accounting, marketing, and economics, but she always knew that law interested her most. She went on to earn her law degree from Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kan., and subsequently she returned to Missouri to teach law. She says she was blessed to find a teaching position in this state. She was doubly blessed when, at Southeast, she met and married her husband, Dr. Gary Johnson, professor of accounting.
In addition to receiving tenure, Dr. Johnson has been promoted from instructor to assistant professor to associate professor and, finally, to full professor in the seven years she has been at Southeast.