His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world “This was a man.”
Mark Antony, Julius Caesar, 5.5.72-74
John Foy Lowndes passed away peacefully February 12th in the presence of his family. John, 90, was born to Dorothy (née Foy) and Charles L.B. Lowndes on January 1, the first baby to arrive in 1931 in Medford, Mass. Though born up north, he was quick to note that Durham, N.C. was his hometown, where he was raised with two brothers and a sister. John’s father was a professor of law at Duke University whose passion for tax law was rivaled by a devotion to gardening, which in those days meant John and his brothers wrangled a mule and dynamite to clear stumps. While earning his B.A. at Duke, John enrolled in the United States Marine Corps ROTC and joined Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, eventually becoming its president.
When not in class, he held an array of jobs, from tobacco dryer to clothing model to door-to-door brush salesman in a crisp straw hat. John graduated during the Korean War and the Corps stationed the young captain in Pensacola and Miami, where he first developed a love for Florida. After his service, he returned to Durham and to Duke, this time focused on law school, where he graduated first in his class. Still, he couldn’t get the palm trees out of his mind. He gave opportunities on Wall Street and Washington, D.C. a pass, and went with his wife Katie (née Flynn) to Central Florida where he began his law career, briefly in Daytona and then in Orlando with the Anderson Rush firm, an incubator for much of the area’s legal talent.
As John’s family grew so did his vision. In 1969, John and three partners launched their own firm with the aim of becoming the largest and best in Central Florida. The venture was a risk, but they were determined that a collegial union of dedicated lawyers and staff would succeed. John focused his practice on real estate transactions, development, and finance, and partnered early on with Lester Mandell in Greater Construction Corp. This was a pivotal relationship for the firm, as Greater built homes throughout Central Florida, and for John personally as Lester became his dear friend. The new firm opened just as the Disney-centered economy ginned up in the late 1960s and 1970s, keeping the young lawyers furiously busy. John spared no effort in building and managing his firm, but still he held court every Friday afternoon with a tight band of fellow tennis players, and found time for blue-water sailing off the coast and in the Caribbean.
In support of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, he boosted its annual 24-hour bike races (before Orlandoans knew of the sport), piloting into the pits a rented RV bursting with teams made up of his children, their cousins and high school friends and later even his legal colleagues. In 1980, John and his partners opened the landmark headquarters of Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed on the eastern shore of Lake Eola. If John was fortunate to begin his career in a burgeoning Central Florida, the area, too, was fortunate to have a leader who helped to positively shape its growth in so many ways. John was a lector at St. Margaret Mary Church in Winter Park, and served as a trustee for the Orange County School Board.
John married Rita (née Huber) in 1983, and together they charted a path in promoting the arts, education, and health and social services. John chaired the boards of the Orlando Museum of Art, Winter Park Memorial Hospital (now AdventHealth Winter Park), and the Winter Park Health Foundation. He served on boards of the Friends of the Mennello Museum, the University of Central Florida College of Business Administration, Duke University College of Law Board of Visitors, Holocaust Center of Florida, and the UCF Foundation. Rita chaired the Boards of the Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Coalition for the Homeless, Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando, Trinity Preparatory School, and served key roles with the Winter Park Library and United Arts. Most importantly, all these community efforts were jointly undertaken, including a generous grant for the construction of the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center. John and Rita shared a perfect partnership for 38 years – devoted to and delighting in one another. Theirs was a true love story, as was noticed regularly by those close to them.
Under John’s stewardship, the firm continued to attract outstanding lawyers, including one of his daughters and two of his sons-in-law, and by its 20th year, it had achieved its goal of being the largest and best business law firm in Central Florida, and among the largest in the state. In 1999, after being the firm’s president and managing partner for 30 years, John handed over the management reins, freeing some time for him and Rita to travel and to enjoy their second home in John’s beloved North Carolina. There, they welcomed children and grandchildren who shared his love of the mountains. John hardly slowed down, though. He traveled widely with friends on fishing trips from South America to Alaska and at home dropped lines off the dock with his grandkids. And he remained active in his practice and in advising.
In his 50-year legal career, John was known for his tremendous intellect, work ethic, and business acumen. But he was perhaps better known, and certainly better loved, as an advisor, a mentor, and a friend not just to scores of lawyers within his firm and without, but to so many who were lucky enough to encounter him. He had a rare instinct for the right thing, the ethical choice, and the kind way.
It has been his family’s good fortune that above all, he cherished his time with them. Christmas was by far his favorite day of the year, as it meant all of his children and grandchildren in the same room. Without fail, he would begin the evening’s meal with the same toast: “There’s nothing better in this world than family. And I have a great one.”
John is predeceased by his brother, Charles L.B. Lowndes of Orlando, and his sister, Mary Baker Robbins of Tampa. John will be remembered with love by his wife, Rita, his children Elizabeth (Dan), Amy (John), John (Julie), Joe (Priscilla), Jennifer (Tim), and his grandchildren Elizabeth, Callan, Jack, Amy, Susanna, John, Benjamin, Adam, Nate, and Everett, his brother William S. Lowndes (Kim) of Asheville, N.C., sister-in-law Sydna Fryer Lowndes, brother-in-law James R. Robbins, and many beloved nieces and nephews. A celebration of John’s life will be planned at a future date.
Those who would like to build on John’s legacy of support for the arts are invited to consider a contribution to OrlandoShakes/John’s Fund. Gifts may be mailed to Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 East Rollins Street, Orlando 32803.