My Story:

Except for a few exceptions, Mary Burns wasn’t allowed to watch TV when she was growing up. Instead, she and her sister read. Her mom and dad are big readers, too.

“People are interesting to me. Each one is a character. When you read a novel, you read about characters; people on pages. People, to me, are characters, and we’re all in the story together, with everyone we meet.” Which is how the story grows.

Two of her favorite characters are her parents. They both read incessantly, Mary says – novels, non-fiction, memoirs, stuff they agree with, and stuff they don’t. This taught her that it is important to consider all points of view.

Mary says she gets her sense of humor from her father. “He refused to let my sister and me take ourselves too seriously.”

Mary’s mother taught her one of her most important lessons. It applies in all types of relationships – personal and professional. “She taught me to pick my battles in life … What I’ve learned is to give people grace and forgiveness, to accept them for what they are. I try to do that, anyway.”

Mary revisits Jane Austen’s novels every 10 years or so. The 19th Century British novelists are her favorites. Another of her favorite characters is Jo, from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. “I first read that book when I was a little kid and must have reread it a hundred times since.”

Rereading her favorite books allows her to revisit characters she hasn’t seen in a while, characters with whom she feels a bond. “You know when you finish a book and you’re sorry it’s over? So all you can do is go back and relive the memories with the characters. But you also see new things that you didn’t the first time around, because time has passed for you. You can get even more from the story.”

She was, of all things, an English Lit major as an undergraduate, mostly because it meant she could get a degree for reading even more. She always has two or three books going at a time. Then she went to law school because she figured she could do a lot with it. As it turns out, she learned that she wanted to help people, which is Johnson’s mission.

“The collection of people I work with exists nowhere else. Also, in my role here, I get to hear more stories because I get to know our clients, their families, and their goals. I help them craft plans to fit their goals.”