Sonia Nga Johnston, who came to Northern Virginia as a refugee following the Vietnam War and climbed the ladder of success in the local banking industry, will be enshrined into the Arlington Business Hall of Fame this spring.
The announcement was made March 4 by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, which sponsors the award, presented to one or more local leaders annually since 2009.
Johnston “is truly an Arlington business icon,” Chamber president Kate Bates said. “She is known for her persuasiveness, but also for her heart. Sonia pays it forward, working to provide opportunities for all, especially for small businesses and nonprofit organizations.”
Born as To Nga in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, Johnston served as an interpreter for the U.S. government in Saigon during the Vietnam War. After the war, she fled the country with thousands of other refugees, immigrating first to California and then, in 1976, to Northern Virginia, and eventually was able to assist most of her large extended family in coming to the U.S. by the early 1980s.
Johnston successfully developed a banking career, most recently as Arlington region president of John Marshall Bank and previously with stints at Virginia Commerce Bank and James Monroe Bank.
“I had nothing, and here I am,” Johnston said as part of a July 2021 program hosted by the Arlington Optimist Club. During the event, she praised the support she had received during her early years in the U.S. and throughout her professional career.
“You can’t do it by yourself,” said Johnston, who in 1992 married Warren Johnston, who had served in the U.S. military in Vietnam and had known her family when there. Warren Johnston died three years ago.
Sonia Johnston also has served the community with leadership positions with the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Center for Excellence, PathForward, Warren G. Stambaugh Foundation, Arlington Professional Business Women, Asian-American Business Council, Arlington Kiwanis Club and Arlington Community Foundation.
“She is a wonderful, professional banker,” said local business executive and entrepreneur Lola Reinsch, a member of the Optimist Club, responding to the 2021 presentation by Johnston and her niece Monique To.
Reinsch knew of Johnston’s professional background, but was not that familiar with her family’s odyssey in getting from Vietnam to the U.S.
“I was so impressed,” she said after the presentation.
The induction ceremony will be held as part of the Chamber’s Best Business Awards, to be held on May 25. Johnston will join previous inductees that have included Giuseppe Cecchi, Robert Smith, William Buck, John Shooshan, Emerson Reinsch, Russell Hitt, Sidney Dewberry, Ashton Jones, W. Sydney Albrittain, James Cole, Jonathan Kinney, Joseph Wholey, Mort Zetlin, Dr. Kenneth Haggerty, Fred Burroughs, Preston Caruthers, Joel Broyhill, Herb Morgan, Elizabeth Campbell, Dr. Jack London, Neal Nichols, Henry Lampe, David Guernsey, Bob Peck, Rich Doud, John Milliken, Scott McGeary and Erik Gutshall.