Calling the shots: GrayRobinson law firm gives Mayanne Downs full control
Downs, 60, grew up in Orlando on 15 acres with an orange grove and all sorts of animals, including horses, goats and a pet llama named Dolly.
Her father, Earl, a successful real estate developer, had grown up in Birmingham, Ala., during the 1930s and 1940s as the son of a sheriff who’d lost a re-election bid to segregationist Bull Connor. The experience left Earl Downs with a passion for civil rights. In the early 1960s, he clashed with the city of Orlando over a requirement that he provide separate “colored” waiting rooms for new medical offices he was building. The city relented and allowed him to build a desegregated waiting room. Downs’ mother, Sally, a former Little Miss Orlando winner, had been a member of the first graduating class that included women at the University of Florida.
Downs was the oldest of three girls and one boy, all of whom learned to be self-reliant. She tells of being given such adult-like tasks as checking out of the family’s hotel rooms at a young age as her father supervised from afar. “He just always wanted us to be able to do for ourselves.”
Downs, who graduated from UF with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1979, followed her dad into real estate, founding her own brokerage. In the course of doing business, she had an encounter with the law that shaped her later career track.
Early in her working years, she gained exclusive listing rights to homes in The Springs, a planned community that her father had developed in Longwood. In 1983, one of the subdivision’s builders sued Downs and her father in an antitrust case, claiming it had wrongfully been forced to market homes through her brokerage.
“I’ll never forget that awful, scary day when a deputy sheriff handed me a sheaf of papers. The words almost seemed like another language,” she says. “I thought, ‘This is awful. I can’t even understand what’s required here.’ ”
The Downses hired a local attorney, Jackie Griffin, who had gone into law after teaching Spanish. Griffin inspired Downs to become a lawyer. “She dazzled me with her intellect, her life and her job,” Downs says. “I became fascinated by that lawsuit.” Eventually, Downs and her father settled the suit for $750.