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Laura Perry Johnson

Personnel Profiles

Laura Perry Johnson

Laura Perry Johnson is glad she traveled the broken road

She may be in Tifton one day, rushing to Athens the next. Laura Perry Johnson burns up the road as the 4-H program coordinator for the Southwest District.

Her energy and dedication are the envy of her coworkers, but they can be awfully hard on an automobile. She recently put to rest a Dodge Durango with 225,000 miles on the odometer.

"The radiator blew up," she said. "For years, I bought cars based on how many paper boxes they would hold – 4 or 5 across. Hopefully I won't be carrying as many boxes in my new job."

Perry Johnson's new job, as of June 1, is District Extension director for the Southwest District. And although she may no longer have to worry about cargo capacity, it's a position that will draw even more heavily on her experience and drive.

Thank goodness, she has a secret weapon.

Heading to the Rock Eagle 4-H Center in Eatonton, Laura makes a pit stop to pick up a 12-pack — her usual stack of Tab sodas.

"I am a Tab fanatic. I started drinking them in 8th grade and haven't stopped since," she laughs. "I'm not the only one. A lady who works at Coke told me they don't even advertise them, and they still fly off the shelves."

The sixth generation of Perrys to live on Pineywoods Farms in Moultrie, Ga. (her kids are the 7th), Laura was bound to pursue a career in agriculture. Her family runs a diversified cattle and farming operation.

"We've done a little bit of everything – commercial cattle, cotton, peanuts, corn, vegetables. My mother raises bulldogs, and we have miniature horses and donkeys, too," she said.

The eldest of four, Laura took a job "in town" when she was 13 to get away from farm work. An active 4-H'er, Laura showed cattle, and it was no surprise that she enrolled at the University of Georgia as an animal science major.

"I loved agriculture, obviously, and growing up showing livestock, animal science was a natural fit for me," she said. 

She earned three degrees in animal science: a bachelor's in animal science, a master's in meat science and a doctorate in meat science.

"My sister's a vet and I knew I didn't want to work with sick animals. I coached meat judging teams and had been on meat judging teams and I really like promoting red meat. I thought I'd move to Chicago and work for the National Livestock and Meat Board," she said.

Instead, Laura took a job with Georgia 4-H as a livestock specialist. She coordinated all the livestock and horse programs across the state.

"I was in Athens for a few years and then I moved to the RDC, so I basically moved back home," she said. "I moved closer to my support system, my Mom and Dad. I heavily rely on them and my husband to balance my work and home life."

After eight years, Laura became the 4-H program coordinator for the Southwest District. In this position, she worked with 41 counties mentoring and supporting 4-H agents and program assistants.

"I've been in this job for 10 years, and I have really found out that I like county operations and figuring out budgets, staffing and personnel issues. In my new position as district director, I will be able to stay in county operations in the area where I grew up. And I'm passionate about this area of the state. I want to make a difference in these communities," she said.

"In the Southwest District, 39 of the 41 counties are considered consistently poor. My strength and talent lies in helping mentor and empower the people who are working in those regions. Extension may be the only program in small, rural counties like Randolph and Clay."

Laura says the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has been good to her. She is working a job she loves with people she loves. The college even introduced her to her husband Scott, a CAES agronomy graduate.

Laura Perry Johnson (far right) pictured with her family
Laura Perry Johnson (far right) pictured with her family — husband Scott, daughter Libba, and son Bill — with the show judge (center) at her daughter's hog show in 2011.

"I was boarding my cow at the farm where he worked in Athens," she laughs. The couple have two children, Bill, 14, and Libba, 12, who are active in 4-H and FFA.

"They are growing up on the farm just like I did, and hopefully they are learning responsibility. And they both say they are going to UGA and the College of Ag. I tell them that they have study to get in," Laura said.

In her free time, Laura loves to read (real books, the ones that smell musky and have dog-eared pages), garden and work in her yard. "I have a cute little garden and I have backyard exotic chickens," she said.

Laura says her career path reminds her of the Rascall Flatt's song "God Bless the Broken Road."

"It completely did not work out like I planned. I remember my first lamb school at Rock Eagle. I was lying in the bunk thinking, 'Oh my God, they are paying me to do this,'" she said.

Laura is excited about her new position, but she refuses to stop doing animal science and 4-H work.

"I'm so excited about this job and I know I'm going to need a ton of help and support. I will still be involved in 4-H events, and I still plan to go to livestock shows and weigh pigs," she laughs.

(Written by Sharon Dowdy, a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Released May 2012.