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Blackshears take career path that reflects father's style

Albany Realty President Danny Blackshear Jr., left, and Executive Vice President Bonny Blackshear Dorough are continuing the real estate company founded by their father. Blackshear seemed destined to go into the family business, but Dorough took a more circuitous route. (June 1, 2013)

Albany Realty President Danny Blackshear Jr., left, and Executive Vice President Bonny Blackshear Dorough are continuing the real estate company founded by their father. Blackshear seemed destined to go into the family business, but Dorough took a more circuitous route. (June 1, 2013)

ALBANY, Ga. -- While most of his friends were propped up in front of TV sets, keeping up with the latest adventures of their Saturday-morning cartoon heroes, or outdoors organizing various adventures as only young boys can, Danny Blackshear was sitting in his father Dan's real estate office, listening to his side of countless business conversations.

Though he had no way of knowing at the time, it was there that young Danny Blackshear started absorbing the skills that would allow him to take up the family torch and follow in his father's considerable footsteps. Along with older sister Bonny Dorough, Blackshear has kept the Albany Realty company Dan Blackshear founded with a small loan from a group of good friends among the most respected such agencies in the region.

And with Dan Blackshear's untimely death in 1989, it is no small wonder that Albany Realty's operations continued seamlessly, the siblings assuming management responsibilities that had been their father's since he opened the business in 1959.

"We were so fortunate that dad had developed partnerships over the years with such knowledgeable people," Dorough said. "When he died, it was very difficult for us emotionally. But with the advice and help of people like Bill Divine, Lamar Reese, Clinton Miles and Gayle Manley -- who were some of our dad's most trusted friends -- we were able to carry on with not a lot of difficulty."

When Danny Blackshear's history is written, it will contain an adjective that he uses liberally when he talks about his successful father, who is one of only 18 inductees in the Georgia Association of Realtors Hall of Fame. During an extended conversation, Blackshear refers to his father and most of the men who were his contemporaries as "self-made." It's a badge of honor that fits the young Realtor as well.

Even as he studied at Valdosta State and Georgia Southwestern colleges, Danny Blackshear would still spend his free time -- weekends and breaks -- back in Albany at his father's office. Eventually, he decided school was simply keeping him from his calling.

"I always knew I was going to come back here and work," Blackshear said. "I spent hours sitting in that chair over there, listening to my dad talk business on the telephone. I'd sit in on business meetings he had with his partners.

"I guess I was probably here for a reason. I don't think I realized it at the time, but I'm sure I learned a lot of this business just sitting there, listening to him talk."

Blackshear got his real estate license at 18 and his broker's license at 21, the youngest possible age to obtain both. He left college at age 22 without earning a degree, choosing to come home and start his career at Albany Realty alongside his father.

A CHANGE OF PLANS

Dorough's route back to the family business was a bit more circuitous. She was considering law school after earning an undergraduate degree in history at the University of Georgia. But a planned "small break," during which she worked in retail, erased those plans and she eventually found herself at Albany Realty, learning the business from her father and brother.

"Once I decided not to go to law school, I gave retail a try," Dorough said. "And even though I decided it would not be my life's work, it was a great educational tool. I didn't know if real estate was what I really wanted to do either, but working with my dad and with Danny turned out to be a great experience."

Dorough did, however, get an opportunity to experience the law up-close-and-personal. She met Albany attorney Bo Dorough at a party, and many of their atypical dates centered on his work.

"While we were dating, a lot of times instead of going out we'd go to Bo's office," Dorough laughs. "I'd go with him to court and to depositions."

Shortly after the Doroughs were married, Dan Blackshear died, leaving Danny Blackshear and his sister to run the Albany Realty office. They depended on the strong advice of their father's friends and partners, particularly that of attorney Bill Divine.

"Before my dad passed away, he talked with Mr. Divine and told him he wanted him to be the trustee of his business," Blackshear said. "It had been set up so that C&S Bank would be the trustee, and Mr. Divine said he was too busy. Dad said, 'I guess we'll just let the bank run our business when I'm gone.' Mr. Divine relented, and he helped us so much.

"All of dad's partners helped us, and we talked with them almost daily for several years. We were so fortunate that Mr. Divine agreed to work with us. Very few attorneys have the business mind that he has, and that helped us very much."

The siblings were also fortunate that Albany Realty Office Manager June Lewis, who had started work with Dan Blackshear in 1983, was still around.

"I think (Blackshear and Dorough's) handling of the business was just a natural progression," Lewis said. "Danny was always around here, and he and Bonny have always been smart, gracious and kind people, like their father. And it doesn't take them long to catch on to things.

"Other than the loss we all felt, the changeover was not that difficult. There just weren't any big changes."

Fifteen independent sales associates work out of the offices of Albany Realty, which is an all-purpose real estate/development agency. The company builds new homes, develops subdivisions, manages rental property, apartment complexes and a limited amount of retail space, most of it in the Albany area.

If that sounds familiar to people in the business, it's the way Dan Blackshear ran his business.

"Dad would venture outside this immediate area, but not very often and only if he had partners that he really trusted," Danny Blackshear said. "He was very hometown-oriented, did probably 95 percent of his work here."

NO SIBLING RIVALRY

While the impressive career that Dan Blackshear built still casts quite an imposing shadow over his children as they follow in his footsteps -- he was, after all, chairman of the Georgia Real Estate Commission for 14 years and was appointed president of the National Association of Real Estate License Law Officials during the Carter administration -- Blackshear and Dorough have earned the same kind of respect among their contemporaries.

"I never really knew Danny's father, but from what I've heard of him Danny has the same kind of savvy his dad did," Albany-based developer Pace Burt, one of Blackshear's close friends and occasional business partners, said. "And if I had to give you one word to describe Danny, it's honesty. He exudes that. You know if you work with him, he's going to hold up his end of the deal.

"I think his relationship with Bonny is amazing, and they're the kind of people in this business that you want to partner with. Danny's a good businessman, and like me, he really loves Albany."

In a poignant moment during a converstaion with Blackshear and Dorough, he reveals that his father expressed concern about the siblings working together.

"Dad mentioned on more than one occasion how important it was that Bonny and I get along," Blackshear said. "He said it is usually difficult for siblings to be in business together, not that he felt that Bonny and I didn't get along.

"We've been fortunate because we haven't really had to deal with any sibling rivalry-type issues."

Dorough concurs.

"For me, the fact that Danny and I come to work together every day and still love each other and respect each other says a lot," she said. "I'm his older sister, but I feel fortunate to have him in my life as a business partner and a brother."

It's the strong brother/sister bond that carried Blackshear and Dorough through their fish-out-of-water ownership of the Cab Stand nightclub with Burt -- "We were really out of our element, but we had fun," laughs Dorough. -- and it was their dogged determination to do the right thing that helped them work through a "seven-figure setback" when more than 200 of their properties were damaged in the Flood of '94.

"We didn't get any FEMA money, but we were able to secure some low-interest loans," Blackshear said. "Still, by Christmas (five months after the flood), we had everything back."

It is, perhaps, to be expected that Dan Blackshear's story runs through the story of his children as they build on the success of the business he nurtured from the ground up more than a half-century ago. But as their own successes and the respect they've garnered for their own works attest, Blackshear and Dorough have earned their sterling reputations on their own merit.

Their father would have no doubt been proud.