Willie Gary was born in 1947, in south Georgia, the sixth of 11 children.
The family lived in shacks. No shoes. No nothing. The richest thing in
his life was the red Georgia clay under his nails.
Willie Gary knows better than anyone that tough times never last but
tough people do. Growing up in a poor migrant family, Gary beat the odds
to become a multi-millionaire nationally renown attorney, who is known
for giving back to the less fortunate.
Flo-Sun Inc., an umbrella company for the sugar empire of the Fanjul
family of Palm Beach, recently hired Gary to handle multimillion-dollar
lawsuits that claim thousands of cane field workers from the Caribbean
were underpaid for years.
Attorney Bob Montgomery, who reportedly also was approached about the
lucrative assignment, described Gary as "a power in the courtroom'' and
said Flo-Sun made a very good choice.
Within two years of opening his Stuart law firm, Willie Gary was a millionaire.
He has made big money ever since. And he has given away large chunks
of that money: $10 million to Shaw University, thousands to local health
charities, $60,000 to fund a Stuart day-care center, $100,000 to help build
a new Baptist church in Indiantown, thousands to African-American scholarship
Gary has made his fortune taking big liability settlements from insurance
companies in wrongful-death suits. His fee averages 35 percent. He says
he'll give up some or even most of that fee to help a poor client reach
the right settlement.
He made national news when he reached a settlement of more than $40
million with Florida Power & Light over the 1985 electrocution of seven
rural Palm Beach County residents.
He made global news in 1996 when he won a $500 million jury award from
the Loewen Group, a Canadian funeral home company he had sued for breach
of contract. Loewen had been buying up U.S. funeral homes and driving the
competition out of business. As part of the settlement, he received stock
in Loewen and agreed not to sue the company again.
More important than TV coverage, he says, was ABC News naming him "Person
of the Week'' in 1992. "It meant they recognized me as a man, not just
as a lawyer.''
But the law is the key that unlocks Gary, his philanthropy, his sense
His firm employs 150, including 21 lawyers, eight partners, two investigators,
dozens of paralegals, a medical director and a public relations specialist.
It represents more than 7,000 clients, including two groups of more than
Most of the cases are small, less than a million dollars. But a million
here, a million there adds up to around $55 million per year in settlements.
Most of the clients are small--working men and women, the rural poor, children.
Most of the opponents are big--hospitals, chemical companies, insurance
companies. Gary's associates call him the giant killer.
His firm is not big by national standards, but it brings in more dollars
per associate than the biggest firms in the country. The 100 largest U.S.
law firms average $400 million in revenues, employ an average of 450 lawyers
and generate about $500,000 per year in profits for the partners, according
to the American Law Journal. Gary's firm generates almost $3 million per
lawyer in gross revenues.
"I'm the rainmaker. Every firm needs a rainmaker, the guy that brings
in the business. The stiff-collar, old-school firms might do their marketing
at country clubs and on the golf course. I do mine in court.''