By IAN M. FISHER (3L)
Mayanne Downs (JD87), a shareholder at King, Blackwell, Downs & Zehnder in Orlando, Fla., is a Double Gator and a dedicated Gator fan with an amazing life story.
In 2007, just as the Gator basketball team headed into the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament, Downs became ill because of a bacterial infection of the blood. Her lungs and digestive system shut down. She fell into a deep coma for days. When she awoke, her first words shocked everyone in the room.
“The first thing I asked was, “Did the Gators win?” Downs said.
Downs wasn’t aware of how long she’d been out; last she’d known the Gators had yet to play in the second round of the regional semi-finals.
“I went to the hospital on March 19, and woke up from my coma on March 30. I thought it was the next day,” she said. “It always embarrasses me a little bit because I think people would think, ‘She’d ask first about her children.’ But I didn’t know I was in a coma.”
Downs’ close friend, 5th District Court of Appeal Judge Jackie Griffin — also a rabid gator fan — corroborates the tale.
“That is a true story. I was in the room. It was just so Mayanne,” Griffen said. “She’s been in this coma for I don’t know how long and she could barely form words and there she was, just, ‘How did the Gators do?'”
Downs learned the full power of friendship following her recovery. Dozens of friends and attorneys from around the state had come to the hospital to support her when word spread that she was deathly ill.
“It helped everybody appreciate how fragile our relationships are and these people that we love — how easy it is to lose them,” Griffen said.
Downs met Griffen while working in the Downs family’s real estate business. On Oct. 17, 1983, at 3:30 p.m. a sheriff knocked on the business’ door — the business was being sued in an antitrust case, and Downs was terrified.
“It’s as if somebody has come and taken you forcibly by the shoulders and said, ‘Here, I’m going tothrow you in this game,’ ” Downs said. “ ‘And your life depends on the outcome. By the way, you don’tknow the rules, but everyone else in the game does and they all have specialized skills.’ It’s a very scary process, very intimidating. I was puzzled; I didn’t know what it was about.”
Downs’ family intended to interview several lawyers before hiring one for the case, but Griffen was the very first they interviewed and they hired her on the spot.
“[Griffen] said I was both a dream and a nightmare client,” Downs said. “I listened closely and did what I was asked to do. On the other hand, I asked a million questions, read all the cases, understood everything instantly and was a real challenge to keep up with. Then she claims after several months of us working together I came to her and said, in essence, ‘I’ve watched what you do. I can do this, and I really want to.’ ”
After attending her first Gator game in the ’60s and getting her undergrad degree from UF, there was no question that UF Law was the right place for Downs. She was admitted, did well, graduated and passed the bar before the court even issued an order in the lawsuit that originally piqued her interest in law school. That lawsuit was eventually settled for a mere $750.
Downs is now the president-elect of The Florida Bar. When she becomes president on July 1, she’ll be the first female UF Law graduate to serve as president, and the fourth woman president in the history of the bar. Despite the odds, Downs has worked her way through the ranks with her signature sense of humor and a flair for the dramatic.
“I’ve always had this connection with the university, and that was underscored as a law student because I just don’t see how you can get a better legal education,” Downs said. “There are very few things in the world that I love more than the University of Florida. When I die, I dearly hope to be cremated and sprinkled over Florida Field.”