One of the reasons Rebecca “Becky” Wilson enjoys her work in land use law so much, she theorizes, is because she loves being an advocate for a cause.
It’s a trait she believes she was born with, and which first came to light in second grade when her very first cause was litter.
“I’d get my little red wagon and walk up and down the roads in rural Alabama and pick up trash,” she laughs. A few years later, though, when Becky became aware of a nuclear power plant outside her hometown of Dothan, her concerns moved beyond soda cans and candy wrappers at the road side.
“I was in 6th grade,” she explains, “and I’d done all this research on nuclear waste, the half-life of the rods, and such. I was concerned about water contamination. And so when a state legislator came to give an assembly at my school, I began asking him questions about the power plant.”
It was the beginning of an unpleasant day for said legislator.
“He just gave wrong answers!” she says. “And so, I was quite precocious and felt compelled to correct him in the auditorium.”
Later, the principal called Becky’s father about the incident.
“It was southern Alabama,” she laughs. “I wasn’t polite enough, I think, in debating this gentleman…. My father always got a kick out of this story. I didn’t get in trouble. My father expressed to the principal that if this man couldn’t handle himself in a conversation with a sixth grader, he was probably in the wrong line of work!”
Becky, however, is certainly in the right one, though early on – perhaps inspired in part by “Ally McBeal” – she imagined she would be a litigator. And so, on the heels of a yearlong stint in Washington, D.C., where she clerked for a federal judge, the Alabama girl headed south to Orlando and did just that with Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor & Reed, P.A.
“Lowndes gave me a great opportunity. I worked on a really small team that handled matters where I was able to get into the courtroom, but at Lowndes, we really invest in people’s careers and encourage them to experience different types of law.”
Back then, says Wilson, she’d barely even heard of land use, zoning or entitlements.
“I was from Alabama,” she laughs, “we were just happy you wanted to build in our state.”
But straightaway she noticed one of her colleagues, partner Hal Kantor, always seemed to be having a lot of fun.
“I asked if I could come work for him, and that’s when I really fell in love with land use and development.”
Becky was recently appointed as new chair of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) of Central Florida District Council, a global multidisciplinary real estate organization with more than 40,000 members dedicated to the responsible use of land, and creating and sustaining thriving communities.
She has also grown to appreciate Orlando, which much to her surprise was a lot more than orange groves and theme parks.
“Before moving here, I’d only experienced Orlando through the lens of tourism. Now I know that Orlando is a welcoming and open city, that the standard of living here is amazing. At a very young age I was able to purchase my own home in Winter Park, and today I live in the great neighborhood of Delaney Park – all over town there are just wonderful restaurants and stores and activities.”
Orlando is also where she met husband Billy, at a Caribbean-themed party for which they both misinterpreted the invitation.
“I wore a flowery dress and a shell necklace,” she said. “And I get there and everyone else is dressed like ‘Pirates of the Caribbean!’” Except one other guy she noticed. Decked out in flip-flops, he, too, had donned an ensemble more suited to Jimmy Buffett than Captain Jack Sparrow.
“A couple of minutes later, a friend introduced us and we’ve been together ever since.”
These days, they are a threesome. Daughter Callie started kindergarten this year.
Though both she and Billy work a lot, when free time calls, so do the eateries of Park Avenue and the nearby farms where Becky and Callie enjoy picking fresh foods to prepare at home.
“We go to Lake Meadows to get eggs or out to pick strawberries or tomatoes or to East End Market,” she says. “This past weekend we made homemade ice cream sandwiches; we like to cook and experiment together.”
She brings that same enthusiasm for collaboration into the board rooms for work.
“What I love most about my job is that I get to work with large groups of people toward the same goal, talented people from all different disciplines.
“I’m usually the lawyer in the room, the analytical one, but I get to spend time with all these creative people: architects and landscape architects, transportation engineers, marketing professionals – and of course our clients,” Wilson continues. “They have the great ideas and I get to balance the political will and the legal rights to get our team to a successful project. Orlando, I have found, is something of a meritocracy: let the best ideas win. And I really enjoy that.”