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Nationally known attorney Willie Gary will be the keynote speaker at the Urban League of Hampton Roads' 19th annual Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Leaders Breakfast, titled "A New Civil Rights Agenda: Making it Work in the 21st Century," at 7:30 a.m. Monday, Jan. 20, at the Ted Constant Convocation Center at Old Dominion University.

The breakfast is also sponsored by Norfolk State University and Tidewater Community College.

Gary's story is a rags-to-riches tale. He was born into a migrant worker family of 11 children that worked bean fields from Florida to the Carolinas year after year. Gary was the first in his family to graduate high school and the first in his hometown of Indiantown, Fla. - population 1,500 - to leave for college.

He played football at Shaw, starting out as a water boy. When another player was injured, Gary tried out and made the team as a linebacker, eventually playing three seasons and becoming co-captain.

Gary earned his law degree from North Carolina Central and has been a major benefactor of higher education since making his first million dollars two years after opening his own law firm in Stuart, Fla. In 1991, he donated $10 million to Shaw, then the largest gift ever given to the university and the largest donation made by an alumnus of any historically black college or university.

Gary has litigated some of the country's most high-profile cases He has also won more than 150 cases valued in excess of $1 million each. In September, a jury awarded $240 million to Gary's clients in a case against The Walt Disney Co., who they charged stole their idea for a sports and hotel complex. In 1996, he made the news around the world when he won a $500 million jury award from a Canadian funeral home company he had sued for breach of contract.

In September, Gary sponsored a football game, the inaugural Willie E. Gary Classic, between Shaw University and Edward Walters College at Jacksonville Jaguars' stadium. He donated $150,000 to the game and gave a combined $350,000 to Edward Waters and Shaw, his alma mater, to help revive their football programs. Proceeds from the game went to scholarships at those historically black colleges.

Gary was named Person of the Week by ABC News in 1992. In 1999, he received an award from the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans for facing and overcoming significant personal adversity through hard work. Past recipients of the award include Bob Dole, Colin Powell and Oprah Winfrey.

Forbes Magazine has listed him as one of the top 50 attorneys in the United States and Gary has been featured by national media print publications such as The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, Ebony, Jet, People and Black Law Journal.

Gary's practice has grown into the thriving national partnership known as Gary, Williams, Parenti, Finney, Lewis, McManus, Watson and Sperando, a firm made up of 34 attorneys, a team of paralegals, a professional staff of 90. The firm operates out of posh waterfront offices on the St. Lucie River in Stuart and on the Indian River Lagoon in Ft. Pierce, Fla.
Gary also owns a national television cable network - the Atlanta-based Major Broadcasting Cable Network, or MBC - the first-ever 24-hour cable channel devoted to family programming for America's urban viewers.

Gary continues to serve as a board member of numerous universities and foundations throughout the country. He has also received honorary doctorates of law degrees from eleven universities, including Old Dominion. Gary and his wife Gloria, live in Sewall's Point, Fla.

Their oldest son, Kenneth, is president and chief executive officer of their real estate management company, Gary Enterprises, as well as CEO and president of The Gary Foundation. Their son, Sekou, is an associate attorney with the firm and a member of the Florida Bar. Their two younger sons, Ali and Kobie, are college students.

Advance reservations are $25 each; $200 for tables of eight by Jan. 10. To reserve a ticket or table, or for more information, call Charles Peek at 627-0864.

This article was posted on: December 11, 2002

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