Janet Mabry was a quick study, the kind of lobbyist who could explain complex issues to the public better than the experts. She was the kind of colleague who showed interest, brought others in board, turning collegial relationships into friendships that lasted decades.
She was the kind of friend who could engage in spirited argument, then wash down those differences with a glass or two of wine. The same principles of fairness that fueled her causes also guided her relationships, with a drive and a competitiveness as distinctive as her big laugh. She inspired friends and co-workers with her commitment to a healthy lifestyle, her sage parenting advice; her ability to distill the problem, find the solution and see the humor.
Mabry, who used her innate ability and rapidly acquired skills to shape the messages that turned into policy, died Nov. 2, of cancer. She was 67.
“She was a non-lawyer who could represent some of the most confusing, complicated issues that anybody in the capitol could possibly work on and break them down into very simple concepts that anybody could understand,” said Jeff Porter, a deputy executive director of the Florida Justice Association, who had just started work at that trial lawyer advocacy group in 2006 when Mabry took him under her wing.
“I’m a non-lawyer, and seeing how she operated and how she was able to achieve those things gave me hope,” he said. “She had an uncanny ability to not only develop relationships, but also to have a really meaningful impact on people’s lives.”
Today that legalese translates into battles with the cigarette manufacturers, the nursing home industry and an eternal effort to cap civil damages through legislation. Mabry also spent years representing the Florida State Massage Therapy Association, helping licensed providers function in a climate of punitive regulations aimed at unlicensed businesses.
She worked to strengthen protections for 55-plus residents who own manufactured homes but rent park space underneath them. Florida Resident Owned Communities credits Mabry on its website with raising that not-for-profit organization’s profile. In one typical example, she helped shareholders shield their private medical and financial information from online access.
“Their Social Security numbers and credit card numbers were called ‘official records,’” said George Russell, a FLAROC board member. “What that means is that any community member could ask to review our official records. Janet helped us amend that legislation.”
Janet Lizbeth Frolich Mabry grew up in Treasure Island and graduated from Boca Ciega High in 1971. She was athletic, a first-rate tennis player. She studied psychology in college and had a background in social work in the early 1980s when she applied for an aide position for Rep. Ron Richmond.
“I could tell she would really dig into her work and represent me well and represent our constituents,” Richmond said. “She understood the issues.”
A lobbyist since 1982, she and husband Michael Mabry opened Mabry and Associates in 1984 in Gulf Breeze, Fla.
Allison Carvajal got her start in lobbying working for Mabry — and like so many others, remained friends. She remembers her ability to see both sides of an issue. (Mabry changed her registration from Republican to Democrat in 1990.)
“At the end of the day, if even if we were on the opposite end of an issue, we could sit and have a drink, there was not a lot of animosity,” Carvajal said.
Her death follows a two-year battle with breast cancer. She continued working from home as long as she could.
“She was a highly respected lobbyist,” said former Sen. Dennis L. Jones, who knew her since his first term as a state Representative 40 years ago. “Everyone respected her. It’s such a shame that something like that has to happen to someone right at the peak of their life.”
Richmond, too, remained friends long after Mabry’s tenure as an aide. And he also struggles to reconcile her exemplary health on multiple levels with terminal cancer.
“I never imagined that for Janet,” he said. “She was just too damned vivacious.”
Not surprising was the outpouring of support from friends or foes over the years, offering contacts and private planes.
“Obviously, when you spend a career working in Tallahassee you have an opportunity to make a lot of friends or a lot of enemies,” Porter said. “She had so many people at the highest levels of government, literally falling all over themselves trying to find a way to help her.”
As with others, Mabry’s “gregarious laugh” stays with him. If you were at a restaurant and you heard that laugh, you would want to know who that person was and what she was laughing about.
“It was almost like a call to come forth,” he said. “To hear the laughter, hear what’s fun.”
She is survived by her husband Mike, daughters Mykel and Lizzie, and two grandsons. A funeral mass starts at 11 a.m. (Central Standard Time) Friday (visitation 10:30 a.m.), St. Ann Catholic Church, 100 Daniel St., Gulf Breeze, Fla.
The service will be streamed live on Facebook at https://fb.me/e/6etLXpiJz.