The Downs Rachlin Martin family mourns the loss of John H. Downs, who founded the law firm together with Sterry Waterman in 1950. John passed away on Tuesday, June 28 at Vermont Respite House surrounded by his family.
Although we are saddened by his passing, we are proud to reflect upon his accomplishments and privileged to carry on the values that John brought to the practice of law. John earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale College in 1941 and his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1947. He entered into private practice with Waterman in St. Johnsbury shortly after graduating from Harvard. When Waterman was appointed a federal judge, John practiced alone for a time before beginning to grow the firm into what is now the largest law firm in Vermont, with offices in New Hampshire and New York. During his almost 50 years at the bar, he engaged in a general practice with an emphasis on litigation and legislative representation.
John served as Caledonia County State’s Attorney and as the St. Johnsbury Town representative to the state legislature. During the 1980s, as a member of a lawyers’ delegation sponsored by the Lawyers for Nuclear Arms Control (now Lawyers Alliance for World Security), he participated in annual negotiations with Soviet professionals on nuclear arms issues. He wrote a book describing his experiences, Negotiating with the Russians on Nuclear Arms: Lawyers Making a Difference, which was published in 1997.
In the 1960s, John traveled to Mississippi on several occasions to represent black Americans who otherwise would have been denied their right to a fair trial.
John served as president of the Vermont Bar Association from 1974-75. He retired from active practice in 1985, though he continued to be involved with the firm in several capacities. He traveled the state representing DRM and presenting grants made through the DRM Community Fund and wrote the Founders’ Column for the firm’s monthly internal newsletter until he became ill. His enthusiasm for the firm he founded and the people who work here was unfailing and will long be remembered.
We extend our deepest condolences to John’s wife, Virginia, their children and grandchildren. The family held a memorial service on Saturday, July 30 at the South Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury, VT for all who wished to remember John and his exemplary life and accomplishments.