If your son was a Milan-based fashion designer, you’d be beaming too. No wonder Sheila Johnson, seen here with eponymous creator Brett Johnson, is smiling. But she smiles a lot, and despite adversity she has so much to be grateful for.
She will explain her life and her philosophy in Walk Through Fire, her book coming out this September. It’s difficult to characterise her as anything other than chameleon, a long-time professional violinist who taught herself the cello during lockdown, a highly successful businesswoman, a philanthropist and a mother and triple grandmother.
With her first husband, Marriott shareholder Bob Johnson, she founded Black Entertainment Television BET, sold on to Viacom. She later married the Arlington VA judge who had presided over their divorce – and for their ‘significant’ wedding she used Donald and Melania Trump’s wedding planner Preston Bailey. That same year, 2005, she founded Salamander Hotels & Resorts, which today includes SALAMANDER WASHINGTON DC, formerly Mandarin Oriental, and properties in Anguilla, Aspen, Middleburg VA – home of her phenomenally successful Middleburg Movie Festival – Montego Bay (HALF MOON) and Tampa Fl.
Her own exercise is walking but she takes a keen business interest in sports, with considerable investment in WNBA Washington Mystics, NHL Washington Capitals and NBA Washington Wizards. Her philanthropy includes investing in Kicking It, getting homeless into soccer, and building a computer centre on Jamaica. She’s on the US Travel & Tourism Alliance and she chairs Parsons School of Design.
Exhausted? You can bet she’s not. She’s still producing – she did The Butler, with Forest Whitaker. She cares passionately about people of colour, and about opportunities for women. To recap, Sheila Johnson is a chameleon – or a salamander, though she might also have named her hotel group after the code name for Colonel Wilhelm Klink, played by Werner Klemperer, in CBS’ Hogan’s Heroes, which ran through 168 episodes from 1965 to 1971.