Ingredients for Life … Well Lived
“I went to law school with the goal of helping to represent poor people,” said Jonathan O. Mayes JD’87, vice president of state and local government relations for Safeway Inc. “I initially wanted to be a public defender.” Mayes’ interest in criminal defense work ended abruptly, however, when he clerked for a small Salem firm following his first year of law school at Willamette. “I told the partners I was interested in criminal defense, so they gave me a file to review,” he explained. “It was for a man accused of molesting a child. After reading the police report about what he had allegedly done, I just couldn’t take the case.” Mayes went back to the partners and asked for a different case. “The second file they gave me was for a man accused of beating up his live-in girlfriend,” he said. “I went back to the partners and asked if they had any contracts I could review. They laughed — but they understood. They gave me a stack of contracts, and I never looked back.” His career path may have shifted, but Mayes’ desire to help others has never wavered. Mayes believes his benevolent nature comes from growing up in a household focused on community. Born in Bermuda, he spent his early childhood in San Diego, Calif., where his father was senior pastor of a local church. “Growing up in a religious household had a big impact on me,” he said. “My parents taught me to always reach back and pull someone along who needs help.” Mayes’ early interest in law developed during high school, working alongside his parents and six brothers at a rescue mission that his parents founded in Santa Barbara. “A number of the people coming into the mission were homeless and drug dependent,” he explained. “Many of them had legal issues they needed help with. That really struck a chord with me.” Mayes earned a bachelor’s degree in social science from Warner Pacific College in Portland, Ore., in 1978. Although he planned to attend law school after college, he decided to take a year off before enrolling in a program. That single year turned into six. Following graduation, he went to work for Chrysler Credit Corp. in Portland. “I was a repo man,” said Mayes, who earned his stripes in the collections department. “It was basic training boot camp. You had to understand the repercussions of saying ‘yes’ to a bad deal. It was one of the best experiences I ever had because it taught me the importance of always living within your means.”
20 | Willamette Lawyer
Mayes worked his way up to a management position at Chrysler, but felt unfulfilled in the job. Deciding he had been sidetracked long enough, he began applying to law programs. “I was accepted to eight different law schools, so I had lots of options,” he said. “I chose Willamette because I thought it was the best law school in Oregon. I also was interested in politics and working at the Capitol, so Willamette was a natural choice.” Mayes enrolled in Willamette University College of Law in 1984. His initial interest in trial work led to his participation in a number of moot court activities. In addition to serving as vice chairman of the Moot Court Board, he was co-winner of the first-year Moot Court Competition. At the beginning of his second year — after that eventful summer internship spent reviewing contracts — Mayes happily shifted his focus to business law.