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Ghazale Johnston is giving back to those less fortunate

Updated: Mar 27, 2019

Where are you from?

I was born in Tehran, Iran in 1975. My family immigrated to the US in 1977, settling into the small town of Millburn in Northern New Jersey. My college friends called it, "the Mayberry of New Jersey.” I always felt fortunate that of all the places to settle, Millburn was the town my dad chose for our family of five (I have two older brothers).

Tell us about your journey from Iran to the US:

My dad actually bought our New Jersey home a year before we moved to America. He originally found his way to New Jersey to see an ENT specialist- for a hearing issue caused by an injury he sustained when he was in the military.

While my dad was on the way back to the airport, he asked the taxi driver to stop outside a real estate office to gather some information about the local housing market. The realtor (who became a long time family friend) told him to let the taxi go, offering to take my dad to the airport. After looking at a few houses together, my dad put a deposit on our home just before flying back to Iran. At that time, he had visions of his children growing up in Iran and then coming to the US for college. In thinking ahead, he wanted to make sure his children would have a place to live. Yes, he bought a house in NJ on what he deemed a good chance his one, three and six year old would come to the US for college many years later!

One year later, our whole family came to NJ for what was supposed to be a short visit. However, as the situation in Iran dramatically changed, my parents decided to make America our permanent home and began to put our life together in a new country. We proudly became American citizens a few years later and even have our name ("Sharifi Mehr") displayed among many others in Ellis Island.

What was it like growing up with parents from another country?

My dad was pretty strict - no TV on school nights, no sleeping out at friends' houses, early curfews, etc. It was easy to get frustrated with those rules as a teenager. However, my dad's unconditional love and hopes for my future were larger than life, so it somehow made it manageable. Oh and it also helped tremendously that my mother was a big pushover who helped me bend the rules from time to time! Ha!

My mom has always been a ball of positive light and quite possibly the most likable person I know. I don't ever recall going through “mother-daughter” drama with her. She left Iran when she was 11 to attend boarding school in England. After high school, she moved to Vienna to study piano. She moved back to Iran when she was 20 years old and much to her parents chagrin, she immediately went and got a job at one of the airlines. My mom and dad met in the travel business and owned and operated their own travel agency for over 40 years. At 71, my mother is still working full-time as a travel agent and shows no signs of slowing down!

My upbringing was the direct reflection of these two people who made countless sacrifices so their children could have the "American Dream.” I like to think my brothers and I honor them each day by trying to do half the job they did as parents. My dad passed away in July and I miss him everyday.

How long have you been in the Carolinas? Why did you move here?

I moved to Raleigh in 1992 for college. Upon graduation, I moved to Charlotte and have been happy to call the Carolinas home for over 20 years! There is no other place I want to live other than Charlotte, NC.

Family stats:

I am married to one of the "good guys,” Andy Johnston. We have a ten year old son, Alex and our daughter, Millie is eight - they are truly “good eggs.” The second to last thing I say to my kids when I kiss them goodnight is, "I lobeing your mom.” And it is indeed 100% true- I love being their mom above all else. As for pets, the three of them are trying very hard to talk me into adding a furry member to the family. I officially moved my position from "not going to happen" to "probably not going to happen.”

What is your education?

I graduated from North Carolina State University in 1996 with a BS in Textile Management and BA in Latin American Studies. However, I went right into management consulting after college, spending almost 20 years serving the banking/mortgage industry. I am a rare Gen Xer who never changed jobs!

What is your occupation?

In January 2016, I decided to retire as Managing Director with Accenture. I absolutely loved my consulting career and believe with my heart that Accenture is one of the best companies in the world. I never expected when I made the decision to work there in 1996, that I would put into motion a series of opportunities that helped me meet so many amazing people and tackle such exciting and challenging work.

However, I always knew there would be a day when I would want to start a new chapter- and it would likely have nothing to do with creating better technology and processes to support mortgage banking! I am now directing my focus to help companies and organizations support underserved groups in society. I am passionate about creating practical and meaningful strategies that can make a deliberate and lasting social impact. I promised myself I would not jump into anything too quickly and would take the first six months to figure out my new chapter. But soon enough, I had a few opportunities come up that were too good to pass by.

Tell us about how you are helping less fortunate children:

I am beyond thrilled to be helping CommuniGift launch in Charlotte. CommuniGift is a birthday invitation and gift-purchasing platform that enables a child to invite guests to his or her birthday party and have the gifts directed toward a low income or at-risk child. Invitations can be sent and gifts can be purchased without ever leaving the CommuniGift site. CommuniGift partners with local nonprofits who have strong relationships within the community, helping to identify children who have an upcoming birthday and would benefit from being the recipient of the birthday gifts. The gifts are carefully selected and distributed by the sponsoring nonprofit to ensure a proper balance of educational items and age appropriate toys. CommuniGift believes it is possible to provide a fun, engaging, and convenient giving experience for birthday hosts and bring new meaning to the $4.5 billion spent annually on birthday gifts. I have the honor of serving as an advisor to the CommuniGift team and am thrilled we are launching this amazing service in Charlotte! You can see their impact on Facebook.

What are your hobbies and interests?

I exercise daily usually first thing in the morning. Specifically, I love to run and take classes at Hilliard Studio Method in Charlotte. I also love eating yummy food and traveling. We have taken trips to various tropical destinations and each summer we check out a new city inside or outside the US. Dining is one of our highlights of traveling, and I put careful thought into finding restaurants in new cities- especially if we are traveling internationally. One could argue my passion for exercise and eating are very closely related! I also tend to include spending time with family and friends as a hobby. It may not seem like a hobby, but I am an extrovert and get a lot of joy and energy from being around people the same way others get an adrenaline rush from going skiing or skydiving. So yes, socializing is indeed one of my interests.

What is biggest struggle you have you faced in your life?

I would have to say the process of losing my father. My dad was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia after a long time of having symptoms that were difficult to diagnose. LBD is a terrible disease and it took over his body and mind in a way that was so sad and heartbreaking for our family. However, what was almost as hard as losing him was entering the uncharted territory of setting up the right care as his condition grew worse. It was a stressful time, full of emotions, logistical challenges, and many unknowns.

I have enormous gratitude for the way my entire family- my mom, my brothers, our spouses, our children- came together to support each other along the way. We walked every step of that journey side-by-side and had the support of so many others too. As much as my dad would have hated all the fuss, I do think we handled his disease and passing with the same love and compassion he demonstrated to us each and every day he was with us on Earth.

Mottos I try to live by:

  • When it comes to big decisions, trust your gut.

  • I would much rather be remembered as being kind than being right.

  • Do the right thing. You get no extra points for taking the easy way out.

  • There are exponentially more good people in this world than bad.

  • Above all else, make sure your children feel they are loved without conditions.

  • You never know who is sitting next to you on the airplane so watch what you say on your cell phone and for pete's sake, don't roll onto the plane looking like you just got out of bed.



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