Name: Mary E. Wawro
Title: Senior vice president/general counsel, Ryan Cos. US Inc.
Education: B.A., art history and German, Georgetown University; J.D., Boston College
Mary Wawro spends much of her time with legal documents as senior vice president and general counsel for Ryan Cos. US Inc.
Seeing projects such as the Downtown East redevelopment in Minneapolis come to life is among the rewards of her job. Downtown East includes the Commons park near U.S. Bank Stadium, housing, a hotel, a parking ramp, two Wells Fargo towers and Ryan’s new office in the Millwright Building at 533 S. Third St.
“My favorite part has been the interesting projects that I’ve worked on, particularly here at Ryan and with so many smart, dedicated people,” said Wawro, who has been at Ryan for 15 years after two years as outside counsel. “When you work a lot with documents and concepts, it can feel really good to see the physical buildings that resulted from those documents.”
Construction-related legal work touches on contracts, torts, real estate and environmental issues, said Wawro, who also oversees Ryan’s insurance risk-management program.
“If you’re someone who likes variety, then construction is a great area in which to practice,” she said.
Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?
A. Just introduce yourself. I think I’m pretty approachable.
Q. What prompted you to study law and pursue it professionally?
A. My father was a Secret Service agent, so I grew up around law enforcement to a certain extent. When my father would take me to his office, he’d show me the counterfeit bills on display in the office.
My father had a lot of respect for lawyers and what they did. As a result, it seemed natural that law might be a good fit. I’ve always been analytical and valued fairness, so legal issues and how we decide them are interesting to me. Once I started practicing law, I’ve enjoyed the challenge; I’ve enjoyed the people I work with and have hopefully made a difference for them.
Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?
A. I’m reading a book called “American Character” by Colin Woodard about the history of individual rights versus the common good in the U.S. over the past 400 years. It builds on a prior book called “American Nations” about how we’re a country of regional cultures that started with early European settlement and still continues today.
Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?
A. Probably poor spelling and grammar. When I was going through school, there was a lot of emphasis put on spelling and grammar. I’m not sure there’s as much emphasis today on those things.
Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?
A. In the winter, I like to cross-country ski. In the summer, I like to bike and kayak with my husband and friends.
Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what would you take them to see or do?
A. I grew up in Indiana, but left to go to college. While I was in college my parents moved to Maine, where they spent the rest of their lives. If someone visited me in Portland, I’d take them to Fort Williams Park to see the Portland Head Light, walk along the cliffs there and take them out for lobster.
Q. Is there an attorney or judge, past or present, whom you admire most? Why?
A. In private practice I worked with Loren Knott, a real estate partner at Dorsey & Whitney. He is an excellent lawyer and was a mentor to me. What I appreciated about Loren was that he used to say that any lawyer can say no, but the best lawyers try to find some compromise or alternate approach to reach agreement.
Q. What’s a misconception people have about working as an attorney or judge?
A. The practice of law is a lot of hard work. It requires time for thought, analysis and reflection. You need to balance a variety of factors. It’s not necessarily the adrenaline rush that’s portrayed on television.
Q. The highlight or lowlight of your daily commute to work is?
A. I bike to work, except in the winter, so my daily bike commute is always a highlight.