Time to Enjoy
By Christy Brudin
Few things are more reliable than time. Time, they say, stops for no man. But some people are certainly better at making the most of their time—at seizing life’s opportunities and taking time to enjoy them.
Vance and Mary Johnson are two of those people. From building a successful business together to creating their ideal retirement, the couple has been making the most of their time together for 40 years. As an amateur clock repairman, Vance has even been known to stop time—and make it start again. Now residents at Westminster at Lake Ridge, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) near Occoquan, Va., the Johnsons are enjoying all the benefits of living in a vibrant and engaging community.
A native of Michigan, Vance graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in philosophy before attending seminary and being ordained as an Episcopal priest. His first assignment was at the Church of the Presidents, located across from the White House in downtown Washington, D.C. His time there afforded him several memorable experiences, including participating in the March on Washington and performing private services for President Lyndon B. Johnson following President Kennedy’s assassination.
“That service started an interesting relationship with Lyndon Johnson, who didn’t like crowds when he worshiped,” Vance recalled. “Instead of coming to the morning service, he would come to the afternoon service, which is usually the one when I preached. We formed a real relationship with him, and my family referred to him as ‘Uncle Lyndon’ during those years.”
After leaving his post at the Church of the Presidents, Vance served at a church in New Carrollton, Md., for several years before returning to graduate school. He currently serves on the clergy staff at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Reston.
While in graduate school at Drexel University, Vance met Mary, who was one of his professors and an active business consultant. Shortly after graduation, Vance and Mary incorporated their own consulting firm. A successful business—and, later, personal—relationship was born.
Mary spent her childhood in Philadelphia and later attended the University of Delaware. After graduating, she worked in human resources before leaving the workforce to get her MBA at Drexel University. “Back in 1968, I was the one woman they decided to accept into this experimental program, so I got one of the early MBAs in Organizational and Community Change,” she recalled.
Following her graduation, Mary accepted a position on Drexel’s faculty. While teaching both graduate and undergraduate courses, she launched a consulting practice that combined her business acumen with her love of church and community. When she met Vance in her classroom, she had no idea the encounter would transform her business and her life.
Mary and Vance combined their business ideas and professional contacts to build a successful consulting firm. Their unique business model allowed them to use their work with business clients to subsidize their work with nonprofits, including churches, religious orders and congregations.
The Johnsons made their partnership personal when they married in 1975. The couple settled in Reston, Va. However, their business required an immense amount of travel, and they often found themselves traveling separately. Despite their hectic schedules, Vance and Mary were able to spend weekends and vacations with Vance’s three children from a previous marriage.
Long before retiring, the Johnsons started making plans for the future. The couple learned a valuable lesson from the two very different retirement paths taken by their own parents. Mary’s parents moved to a CCRC in the 80s and spent ten years enjoying all that the community had to offer. Vance’s parents refused to plan ahead, and the family faced a lot of increasingly difficult decisions as they aged.
“We learned from our parents,” Vance explained. “We felt that it was our responsibility to take care of this for our children, so they didn’t have to face the kinds of things that my family did. We also wanted to enjoy the benefits we saw Mary’s parents enjoy.”
Over the course of more than five years, Vance and Mary researched communities throughout the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. regions. When they came across Westminster at Lake Ridge, they liked its woodsy location and its close-knit community atmosphere. “This seemed ideal; it has always felt like a college town to me more than anything else,” Mary said.
The Johnsons have been living in their cottage at Westminster for nearly a year now, and they couldn’t be happier with their decision. “It has been just perfect here,” said Vance. Mary added, “We love it here. It’s exactly what we wanted. It’s a true community, filled with a great set of people. Our neighbors started welcoming us before we even got here.”
From day one, the couple has been engaged in their new community. They are both involved in the Westminstrals singing group. Vance is part of a men’s discussion group and an investment club. He also conducts the Episcopal service on campus once a month. Mary participates in outreach activities, volunteers in the gift shop, and stays active at the fitness center.
Vance is also finally able to truly nurture his passion for clock repair work, which first developed while watching his father repair timepieces during the Depression. Primarily self-taught, after retiring he decided to take his hobby a step further and attended a School of Horology associated with the University of Pennsylvania. He now takes on more complicated repair jobs, including some for his new friends and neighbors.
However, Vance is careful to note that he doesn’t want his hobby to become a job. “I could do clock work full time here, and I don’t want to do that. I’m retired. I do it when I get around to it, and I tell people, ‘No promises,’” he said with a smile.
Together, Mary and Vance Johnson built a very successful business and an exceedingly happy life. Having found the perfect community for them, they are now committed to creating an ideal retirement. While even Vance can’t truly stop time, the Johnsons can—and no doubt will—take the time to enjoy everything that retirement living has to offer.