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Sheila Johnson, Marrying Very Well

Sheila Johnson and Arlington County Circuit Court Judge William T. Newman Jr. wed in front of 700 guests at her Salamander Farm in Middleburg.
Sheila Johnson and Arlington County Circuit Court Judge William T. Newman Jr. wed in front of 700 guests at her Salamander Farm in Middleburg. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)

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Since moving to Middleburg five years ago, Johnson, 56, hasn't done much on a small scale. She's held fundraising galas for health and conservation organizations, donated $2.5 million for a performing arts center at the private Hill School. Through her Salamander Hospitality company, she is proposing to build a controversial hotel and spa on 340 acres on the outskirts of town. She opened a high-end takeout shop, Market Salamander. She's president of the Washington International Horse Show. And on the side, she's part-owner of the Washington Mystics women's basketball team.

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So, naturally, she hired as the visionary of her "I do's" worldwide wedding planner Preston Bailey -- his latest tour de force was the Palm Beach nuptials of Donald Trump and Melania Knauss -- and assured herself of a celebration that prompted guests' jaws to literally drop when they walked up the steps of the chapel built in an indoor riding arena that retained no horsey odor.

"It's got to be the wedding of the year and then some for Virginia," said Gov. Mark Warner.

Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine was there, and Ted Leonsis. Willard Scott was supposed to come, too.

Katie Couric, standing in Johnson's stables next to a white pony named For Kids' Sake, said, "I was thrilled to be invited. I'm so happy for her."

Outside the stables in the courtyard, drinking lime-ginger lemonade, stood Angela Stribling, a jazz singer and longtime friend who worked for Johnson at BET. "She deserves happiness, and she's just bubbling over with it," Stribling said.

Her date was Derek McGinty, the news anchor for WUSA. He called himself "flabbergasted" by what he'd seen, then looked up at the gray skies and added, "I'm very, very happy for her that it's not raining."

* * *

Johnson's people say the wedding cost in the high-six-figures and conjecture is that it could be as much (or as little, depending on your perspective) as $1,200 per person. Yet even if she hits the $1 million mark for Saturday's festivities alone, that's the mega-rich person's equivalent of an easy ATM withdrawal. Johnson has been called "America's first black female billionaire," and for her, a $1 million wedding is the equivalent of "the average American" hosting a wedding that costs $160.

So what about gifts?

What do you buy a gazillionaire for her wedding? What do you get for this couple who have everything -- including Salamander Farm in Middleburg, plus a place and a horse farm near Palm Beach and a brand-new home in Arlington's Country Club Hills (where she and Newman, who has a residency requirement, will live during the workweek)?

A $14.95 flour sifter. Johnson and Newman have registered for two at Crate & Barrel.


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