October 31, 2014

Florida Icon

Icon: Willie Gary

Attorney, 58

Mike Vogel | 2/1/2006

Willie Gary? [Photo: Michael Price]
Some people are winners. They just refuse to give up. They just refuse to quit. I think sometimes you're born with it.

You just got to get a feel for a good case, and that happens over time. You've got to take your lumps. I haven't won every case in my life. I've never lost a big one.

No matter how small a case is you've got to work it up and put the time in just like it was a billion-dollar case. You've got to be willing to stay up to 5 o'clock in the morning and get an hour's sleep. That's how you get to the billion-dollar case.

I never try to pick a good jury. Never. What I try to do is exclude bad jurors, and I'll take what's left.

I lost my dad back in '85. He was my pride and joy. He was my man. He was my best friend. He was my dad. He was my business partner. We farmed together.

My parents always taught us the value of church, having God in our lives. Before every trial, I make sure our team prays together. After the trial, whether we win or lose, I thank God for giving us another opportunity.

We lost our partner, Madison B. McClellan... one of the finest trial lawyers in America. We had just come off the largest victory (more than $200 million) in the history of the law firm, at least paid victory. And then to find out within 48 hours after we resolved the case that he's dying. I said, "God, why Madison?" I've heard it many, many times from my mom and my brother, who is my pastor, that God is a wise God and He doesn't make mistakes. I guess we have to trust. He made a decision we didn't like, but He made it. Have I ever doubted Him? No, I've never doubted Him. But I've sure questioned Him, and you're not supposed to do that but I did it with Madison. The guy was such a young guy. One of a kind.

I had to work in the fields. My wife worked in the fields. Our parents were migrant workers, working the crops from Florida to the Carolinas. We have great kids. I just wish they had it a little harder coming up. You want to say, if they had just had to pick beans and pick corn and pick apples and work in the sugar cane fields, they'd really know what hard work is all about.

One thing that we did and I think it made them as nice kids as they are and that is we didn't spare the rod. We talked to them. She did most of the talking and ordered me to do the popping.

Racism is still here. But we are better because people, both black and white, want America to be all that it can be for everybody.

Just a month ago I was up in south Georgia bidding on some properties. I bid on six lots. Cost $2 million. The developer said there ain't a snowball's chance in hell that this boy can close on these lots. And I was there to pay him cash. I said, look, you guys do not want to mess with me. Just trust me, you don't.

I walk into hotels to this day and people walk up and ask me to take their bags.

I went down to Chile. My plane (a Boeing 737) won't make that long flight -- I can do about six hours non-stop -- so I went commercial. I got a rude awakening when I got out of that limo and thought my pilots would be there to get my bags and I realized I had to get my own bags. That was the first time I had to fly commercial since I don't know when.

We give away millions and millions of dollars. I just believe that you've got to reach back and pull someone with you as you travel the ladder of success. No matter how much you give, people think you should give twice as much.

I never want to be a landlord again.

I would probably be in real estate developing, something to do with construction, if I couldn't be a lawyer.

Sometimes people unfairly think plaintiff lawyers are all about money. I think we're misunderstood there, big time. It's about making wrong right. It's about looking at suffering and trying to stop it. If we didn't have the resources to fight for the little people, they would never have the resources to fight for themselves.

I can scramble some eggs and some toast. Beyond that I'm in trouble.

A lot of people say I'm flamboyant. I don't know what flamboyance is, but if it's Willie Gary being Willie Gary, then I am.

I would take part of the money I would make from working in the fields and I would buy nice clothes because I wanted to be a star. I just wanted to look like I was going somewhere. I bought some white shoes, pink pants -- just like Elvis Presley. So it was in my blood. Just because God blessed me and I made money, it wasn't like that was what transformed me into this guy with the style, the Bentley, the $10,000 Brioni suits.

When the opposition comes into my office and sees gold-plated hinges on the doors, doorknob, they know that's just my taste -- but they also know they're going to have to pay. There's a little psychology to that.

For every suit I've paid thousands of dollars for, I'm making some donation to some black college, to send some kid to school who would never have got the chance.

I think you should make money. Don't let the money make you.

I can sit down and talk and mingle with the average guy and I'm at home and I'm real.

Nobody's going to outwork Willie Gary. I don't apologize for my success because I earned it. Bottom line, I earned it.

Tags: Politics & Law, Florida Icon, Around Florida, Government/Politics & Law

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