Paula Johnson was born in Cabell County, West Virginia, and graduated from Barboursville High School in 1951. After a year in the workforce, she enlisted in the WAVES and was sent to Bainbridge, Maryland, for boot camp In October 1952. Johnson remained at the Women’s Hospital Corps School in Bainbridge for corpsman training.
In June 1953, Johnson was transferred to Charleston, South Carolina, to work in the women’s ward, emergency room, and intensive care unit. She also worked for several months for a doctor in the hospital. Johnson was discharged from Charleston in 1954 and met her husband Gene; they married that year at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Following the Korean War, Johnson had children and moved around a bit, finally settling in Greensboro, North Carolina, where they lived for thirty years. Johnson worked in Cone Hospital as an EKG lab technician. Later, Johnson worked for the state in the crime control department working with juvenile delinquents. In 1985, she attended UNCG and graduated with a BA in psychology and a BS in social work. Johnson also tutored at Walnut Grove Elementary School and was active in the local WAVES group in Greensboro.