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Sunday, June 28, 2009

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: Ambassador Brenda La Grange Johnson

Brenda La Grange Johnson of Connecticut and New York, business executive and philanthropist, was the U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica from 2005 until January of 2009. As Ambassador, she chaired the Caricom HIV/Aids Conference in 2007. Ambassador Johnson is a member of the Council of American Ambassadors. She was a partner since 1977 with BrenMer Industries, importing and marketing consumer products. She holds a B.A. from Duke University and a M.A. from Columbia University. Ambassador Johnson is on the Duke University Advisory Board of the Nasher Art Museum. She was a founding member, President, and Chairman of the Women’s Board of the Madison Square Boys and Girls Club and continues her affiliation with the Club as a trustee.

In 2002, President George W. Bush appointed her to the President’s Advisory Council to the Arts (PACA) for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and in 2004, she was appointed to the Board of Trustees. Mrs. Johnson has been a member of the Woodrow Wilson Council since 1999. She also served on the Board of Directors of the American Cancer Society and the National Institutes of Health National Cancer Advisory Board. She is a member of the National Finance Advisory Council for the George and Barbara Bush Endowment at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.

Whom You Know met Ambassador Johnson when she was awarded the American Cancer Society's Humanitarian Award earlier this year. She has been quite active in the organization as she was on the Board of Directors, in New York City from 1987 to 2005, was the Chairman of Youth against Cancer, in New York City from 1985 to 1987, and also Chaired the Mother of the Year Luncheon from 1995 to 2005.

Recently Ambassador Johnson had her official Flag Ceremony at the State Dept where her husband was presented with an American Flag and she was presented with the State Department Flag for serving as Spouse and Ambassador in Jamaica. She also attended the Dedication of the Ronald Reagan Statue in the Rotunda of the Capitol and Dinner with Nancy Reagan- with a star-studded Group. Ambassador Johnson does not need Whom You Know to tell her she is a Mover and Shaker-it is clear that someone with such dedication and commitment to her community makes a difference.

She also attended the Kennedy Center Opera of Puccini's "Turandot" conducted by Placido Domingo-with an after-Opera Dinner hosted by the Singapore Embassy where her dinner partner was Placido Domingo and the Ambassador to the USA from Jordan! Aretha Franklin also was at her table.

Whom You Know congratulates Brenda Johnson on her upcoming honor: she will be honored by the American Friends of Jamaica in October at the Plaza Hotel. Currently Ambassador Johnson is working with HRH Prince Charles and the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment to restore Rose Town in Kingston Jamaica. Rose Town is an impoverished part of Kingston that is being restored while preserving the environment and keeping the community "Green".

Ambassador Johnson resides in Greenwich, Connecticut and Manhattan and she and her husband have 4 children and 6 grandchildren. Whom You Know is so pleased to present her as our Mover and Shaker!

Peachy Deegan interviewed Brenda La Grange Johnson for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan What did you enjoy the most about being the US Ambassador to Jamaica?
Brenda La Grange Johnson: The best part of being an Ambassador is the honor of serving your country!!

What is a typical day like for you?
There is no "typical Day" Each day is wonderful and challenging. Every day usually includes making one or two speeches. I always ended my speeches with "God Bless America."

What would most people not realize about the reality of being an Ambassador?
Most people would be surprised at how hard Ambassadors work Our Embassy hours were 7AM til 4 PM. Every night there were "official" events to attend.

What have you learned most about Jamaica since 2005, when you began as Ambassador?
Jamaica is the Third Border Country of the USA. There is Canada , Mexico and Jamaica! I learned what an amazing country Jamaica is and how hard working the Jamaicans are. Jamaicans need a visa to visit the USA . This is a real problem . The Kingston USA Embassy processes over 100,000++ Visa Applications each year. Most Jamaicans want to visit and/or work part time in the USA. There are over one million Jamaicans living and working in the USA-mostly on the East Coast.

What future ambitions do you have both as an Ambassador and otherwise?
I would gladly serve as Ambassador to another country. I am continuing my work with HRH Prince Charles and the Restoration of Rose Town in Kingston, Jamaica. All Ambassadors are required to resign from their Boards upon taking their oath of office to avoid "conflicts of interest" I am now slowly resuming my interests in Cancer Research and Prevention/ Education/and the Arts.

What do most people in Manhattan not know about Jamaica that they should know?
Most Americans do not realize what a special vacation destination Jamaica has become. Jamaica is easily accessible by air or sea and everyone speaks ENGLISH!! For New Yorkers-Jamaica is a 3 hour flight without a time change!

You seem to embrace your educational background in terms of volunteerism with your alma mater and your children's. Whom You Know admires that. How did you become involved with education and how has your involvement grown?
I majored in Education at Duke University and received my MA from Columbia"a Teacher's College. I Taught school for 7 years in Bedford-Stuyvesant Brooklyn. All perfect for being an Ambassador in Jamaica. I became very involved in the education of all Jamaican children. I was especially interested in helping students obtain scholarships for college.

How did you get involved with your volunteerism in regards to cancer groups?
I helped organize YOUTHS AGAINST CANCER for the American Cancer Society when my 4 children were growing up. Our goal was to encourage children to NOT SMOKE and live healthy lives. This work with The American Cancer Society started before I had Colon Cancer. I am a 25 year Cancer survivor-so the volunteer work was prophetic.

What drives your patriotism?
As an Ambassador from the USA you see first hand all the amazing work the USA does with all countries around the world-Our USAID programs are just one example. There were 2 hurricanes that hit Jamaica in 3 years and the USA was the first with Aid, supplies and assistance. Our Peace Corp has been working in Jamaica for 45 Years!!

What is it like to work with Prince Charles?
Working with Prince Charles is a joy. HRH Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall (aka HRH Camilla) visited Jamaica for 3 days to launch our Rose Town Project. When Prince Charles takes on a project -he works hard and does not "drop the ball" . I tell all my friends in the UK how lucky they are to have Prince Charles as their future King. He is especially concerned about the environment. Our Kingston project is a "green" project that will hopefully be copied in other countries.

What are you proudest of?
The fact that I was lucky to have a totally supportive husband during our 3+ years in Jamaica. Of course My four children and six grandchildren who all visited us in Jamaica and consider themselves JAMERICANS.

How do you like Manhattan compared to Connecticut?
Well I am a "city" girl. There is only one "Paris" and that is The big APPLE . I adore Greenwich but given a choice- I will take Manhattan.

What is your favorite place to be in NYC?
My NYC apartment where we have lived for over 30 plus years- I can see Central Park from our windows!

What is your favorite shop?
Escada-where I buy most of my clothes.

What is your favorite drink?
Champagne- preferably Dom Perignon or Cristal.

What is your favorite restaurant?
There are 4- The 21 Club-a favorite also of my parents and now my children. Be sure to see their secret basement wine cellar. Swifty's where you always see your neighbors. I was given a surprise Birthday Party there the week Swifty's opened in 1999. Via Quadronno- a block from our home- sort of like "our Kitchen". Great for Breakfast/lunch or dinner!! La Grenouille for the BEST food and Ambiance. Charles Mason is the best restauranteur. Like dining in Paris but BETTER.

What is your favorite NYC book?
Well as a college student I worked at Tiffany's so of course Breakfast at Tiffany's. For children "Eloise at the Plaza"

What is your favorite thing to do in NYC that you can do nowhere else?
New York City never sleeps-so there is something special to do 24/7 Just recently Fifth Avenue was closed and turned into a "MALL" so people could walk from one museum to the other-all open to the public for FREE!!

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?
Most underrated is how truly FRIENDLY and HELPFUL New Yorkers are- I like to only think POSITIVELY-anything negative would be unimportant.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
I think they know too much already.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
My e-mail -

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