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JOHN H. DOWNS Obituary
JOHN H. DOWNS - SHELBURNE - John H. Downs, 91, founding partner of the law firm Downs Rachlin & Martin with offices in Burlington, died on June 28, 2011, of natural causes in Vermont Respite House in Williston. In addition to establishing Vermont's largest law firm, Mr. Downs' career included service as a prosecutor, state legislator, and numerous other professional, civic and community contributions. John Henry Downs was born Nov. 12, 1919, in Arlington, Mass., the youngest of four sons of Joseph and Ethel Downs. He graduated from Yale University in 1941, served in the Army during W.W.II, and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1947. He joined the law office of Sterry R. Waterman in St. Johnsbury, and in 1950 the law firm of Waterman & Downs was established. Mr. Downs served as State's Attorney for Caledonia County from 1951-1955. After Mr. Waterman retired from private law practice in 1955 to serve as a federal judge, Mr. Downs continued his law practice, initially as a solo practitioner. Mr. Downs' firm became Downs Rachlin & Martin with the addition of partners Robert Rachlin and Allen Martin. In 1976, the firm opened an office in Burlington. Downs Rachlin & Martin is the largest law firm in Vermont history. In addition to his law practice, Mr. Downs' career included elected office and involvement in both of the major political parties. During the early 1960s, he was elected twice to represent St. Johnsbury in the Vermont House of Representatives, where he chaired the Ways and Means Committee and served on the Appropriations Committee. In 1964, Mr. Downs was a delegate representing Vermont at the Republican National Convention. He subsequently changed political parties, and served as a delegate from Vermont to the Democratic National Conventions of 1968 and 1972. Mr. Downs made significant contributions over the years to the legal profession and to charitable organizations. In the late 1960s, he provided pro bono representation through Vermont Legal Aid for African Americans in Mississippi and Alabama who were unable to hire counsel. During the 1970s, he served as president of the Vermont Bar Association, and was instrumental in the establishment of Vermont Law School. He also served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Vermont State Colleges and State Chairman of the March of Dimes. Additionally, Mr. Downs was one of eight American lawyers selected by the Lawyers' Alliance for Nuclear Arms Control (LANAC) to address opportunities for arms control agreements during the Cold War era. Between 1983 and 1990 this delegation of lawyers, which included a former United States Senator and Harvard Law School faculty members, held arms control discussions with Russian attorneys in the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. The two groups negotiated a framework agreement that ultimately was presented to the governments of both countries. Mr. Downs wrote extensively on as number of topics. He authored a book entitled Negotiating with the Russians on Nuclear Arms, drawing from his experience as a negotiator with LANAC. He was also a frequent contributor of editorial columns on public policy, politics and other subjects published in Vermont newspapers. Mr. Downs is survived by his wife of 57 years, Virginia Campbell Downs of Shelburne; three children, Margaret Downs of New York, N.Y., Peter Downs of New York, N.Y., and Thomas Downs of McLean, Va.; as well as four grandchildren. He was predeceased by his daughter, Barbara Downs. His family encourages donations in his memory to Vermont Respite House, 99 Allen Brook Lane, Williston, VT 05495. Arrangements are in the care of Stephen C. Gregory & Son Cremation Service in Shelburne.

Published in The Burlington Free Press on July 1, 2011
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