“Work hard, treat each day as a gift, be humble, and try to have some fun along the way.”
This was Jay Rector’s advice to new lawyers. And it was more than lip service; it was how he lived his life. Sadly, that life ended too soon on September 7, 2020, when Jay died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the age of 61. Many of our readers knew Jay, so we wanted to share this tribute to him in our Blog.
Growing up with six siblings in the small town of Vinton, Iowa, Jay learned to work hard at an early age. He attended Iowa State University, where he worked harder at having fun than in classes. After graduating with a degree in industrial administration, he entered the workforce and spent five years with Phillips Petroleum in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
Seeking a new challenge, Jay went back to school and pursued a law degree at the University of Iowa, where he did work hard. He graduated near the top of his class in 1989. Through serendipity, Jay took a job at Foulston in Wichita, where he became a partner and practiced for his entire legal career.
Jay loved being a lawyer. It was not just a job; it was his identity.
As a labor and employment lawyer, Jay represented some of the largest employers in Kansas. He received numerous recognitions as a top attorney in his practice area. Jay particularly enjoyed working collaboratively and cherished the personal relationships he developed with colleagues and clients. Gifted with sharp intellect and wit, he was adored by his clients, who relied on him for practical, creative, and sometimes brutally frank legal advice, typically served up with humorous stories and much laughter. Working with Jay was fun.
Professionalism and courtesy within the Wichita Bar Association were important to Jay. As testament to this, after Jay’s passing, a union lawyer, who sat across the table from Jay in many hard-fought labor negotiations and arbitrations, called me to offer his condolences and share how much he respected and enjoyed working with Jay over the years: “Always professional and a man of his word.”
Jay was a servant leader who put the needs of others first. He cited “the ability to be of service to clients and the community” as the reason he chose to become a lawyer. As a reminder and reaffirmation of this purpose, he kept a large sign in his office that read, “I exist for others.”
At Foulston, Jay capably led the labor and employment law practice group for many years. He also chaired the firm’s recruiting committee and was revered for his ability to train new associates. In the community, he served several organizations and boards, including the YMCA and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
While he was a hard-charger, Jay practiced mindfulness and treated each day as a gift. He recognized that his greatest gift was his family, and he was a devoted husband to Deborah, who he met and wooed at Iowa State, and doting father to Alex and Amanda, now accomplished young adults who carry on his offbeat sense of humor.
Anyone who spent much time around Jay can attest to his zest for life and zany antics. Travel and road trips. Immersing himself in the latest unorthodox workout fad. Singing classic country music songs as he went about his day, often changing lyrics to fit the situation at hand. Quests to find the greasiest diners and dirtiest dive bars. Legendary pranks. A bowling tournament in the hallway. Roller skating through the office while dressed in drag. Auctioning off the chance to give him a Flowbee haircut to raise money for charity. Hiring an Elvis impersonator to perform at an employment law seminar. Yes, Jay had plenty of fun along the way.
Several years ago, health issues forced Jay to retire early from the profession he loved. But recently his health had improved and he was feeling much better. The day before he passed away, he expressed his excitement about traveling and spending time with his family.
I am personally grateful to Jay for recruiting me, mentoring me, supporting me, and collaborating with me as a peer – and for being my friend and making me smile and laugh along the way. To quote one of his favorite song lyrics: “Jay’s road goes on forever and his party never ends!”