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.”
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.
Following his second year of law school, Mayes took a summer clerkship with Donahue, Gallagher, Woods & Wood in Oakland, Calif., working in the business and general civil litigation group. The firm offered him an associate position following his graduation from law school in 1987.
Mayes worked for Donahue, Gallagher for four years before leaving the firm to become senior in-house counsel for his largest client, Lucky Stores. Mayes worked for the Bay Area food chain for three years. After Lucky Stores was purchased by a competing chain, Mayes accepted a senior attorney position with Safeway Inc., one of the largest grocery and pharmacy retailers in North America. Five years later, he was named vice president of state and local government relations.
“I work with trade associations, lobbyists, our company’s legal team and others to inform legislators and regulators about how their proposals affect our operations, employees and customers,” he explained. “A number of legislators introduce bills, but they don’t always understand the unintended consequences. My job is to inform lawmakers about those unseen consequences.”
Recently, Mayes was in Oregon’s capital to help battle against the Bottle Bill, which will require grocery stores to take in more recyclable containers. The company currently recycles more than 450,000 tons of material each year. “The Bottle Bill increases costs and raises a number of health and safety issues,” Mayes said. “We support recycling at curbside and redemption centers in our parking lots. We just don’t want products returned to our stores, where contamination from dirty cans and bottles could occur.”
Mayes tackles similar issues affecting Safeway’s 1,775 retail stores, located across 21 states. Despite the enormity of the job, he still makes community service a priority. Mayes has volunteered his time to a number of legal aid organizations in California since the early 1990s. Today, he is a board member and former chair of the Law Center for Families in Oakland, which provides low-cost legal services to the community. “I like having the ability to make a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “The greatest thing anyone can do is give to others in need.
“When I think of my life, I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to accomplish some really cool things,” he said. “But I won’t ever put my feet up and say that I’ve arrived. I’m always looking ahead to the next challenge.”
For Mayes, that may mean accomplishing one of the many items on his ‘life’s to-do’ list, which includes running a marathon every year until he turns 80.
Mayes ran his first marathon in 1987, with little training and no experience. “It was just one of those things on my to-do list,” he explained. “After the marathon, I crossed it off the list and moved on to other things. About 10 years passed before I started wondering if I trained harder and used better judgment about nutrition that I could do better.”
So 10 years after running the first marathon, Mayes trained for and ran a second, improving on his initial time. Since then, he has competed in 13 events, including three Boston Marathons.
In 2001, when a hamstring injury sidelined him from running, he decided to cross train on bicycles. “Then I realized that if I could swim, too, I could do a sprint triathlon,” he said. “When I started, I swam a quarter mile and almost drowned. I started to hyperventilate. But rather than give up, I decided, ‘I can do better.’”
And he did. The following year, Mayes competed in a half Ironman triathlon. By 2005, he had trained well enough to compete in a full Ironman competition — swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running 26.2 miles. “I really like the challenge of it, the discipline that it takes, so I plan to compete in more of them,” he said.
“I’ve set some hard goals for myself and accomplished many of them, in business and athletics,” he said. “For me, I have to set hard goals or they just don’t count. I don’t strive for perfection, I just want to look back on my life and be able to say that I did my best.”