OUTstanding Virginians 2011

Mark Lowham

Transplant

Beneath the scrubbed exterior of this real estate executive there beats the heart of a cowboy. Mark, a fifth generation son of the Wyoming range, was destined to be a rancher, but college and business school at Stanford turned him around, and he ended up taking a job in Washington, DC in 1989.

The job was exciting. Having previously developed Wyoming resort properties in partnership with DC-area investor Gerald Halprin, Mark was tapped to join Halprin’s WEST*GROUP, the largest landowner in Tyson’s Corner, as a senior executive at the age of 24.

By the late eighties, Northern Virginia was one of the fastest growing and most lucrative real estate markets in the country. Mark soon found that living in Georgetown and developing the DC suburbs was “a lot more interesting than Jackson Hole.”

At WEST*GROUP, Mark created many successful new ventures, including the world’s largest air cargo facilities management company and an office solutions firm. Under Mark’s leadership, WEST*GROUP was sold last summer to a Credit Suisse subsidiary for nearly half a billion dollars.

After the sale, Mark took his 22 years of DC-area real estate experience to TRR/Sotheby’s International Realty, where he is now a managing partner. His focus is on strategic planning and business development aimed at making the firm the leading luxury real estate business in the Mid-Atlantic. Besides looking forward to the challenges and rewards of his new job, Mark was pleased to learn that three of the firm’s five partners are gay. “I didn’t know how good it would feel to be in the majority,” he says.

One of Northern Virginia’s major philanthropists, Mark is currently a member of the Board of Visitors of George Mason University and a commissioner of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, and he is one of three private sector members of the Council of Governments Committee on Energy and the Environment. He also serves as Chairman of INOVA’s Life with Cancer Program, is a member of the Executive Committee of CharityWorks, and sits on the boards of the Medical Care for Partnership Foundation and the McLean Community Foundation.

Mark ensures that these organizations recognize and embrace his partner, Dr. Joseph Ruzzo, a dentist, with whom he raises their son and daughter. The twins were born in California, where Mark and Joe could register as domestic partners, allowing both to claim certain parentage rights. “On the birth certificate, we simply crossed out ‘father’ and ‘mother’ and substituted ‘Parent 1’ and ‘Parent 2’ next to our names,” Mark explains. “We couldn’t do that in Virginia,” he notes.

During the debate in 2006 over the so-called Marriage Amendment, Mark and Joe were contributors to the Commonwealth Coalition (which included Equality Virginia). They hosted a gathering at their McLean home to which Mark Warner, then Virginia’s governor, came. “We’ll always respond to extraordinary initiatives like that,” says Mark.