By Karen Anderson. This article was originally printed at hawaiiislandmidweek.com.
A self-proclaimed workaholic from the Bay Area, Heather Reynolds traded in her attorney’s shingle for a mermaid tail and has been making a splash in Kona ever since.
“I feel more real now as a mermaid than I ever did as a lawyer,” says Reynolds, inn-keeper at Mermaid Dreams Bed & Breakfast in Kealakekua. “The mermaid tail feels more natural to me than wearing a business suit in a courtroom.”
Reynolds took to her mermaid’s tail like a fish to water after she attended the International Mermaid Convention in Florida six years ago. When swimming as a mermaid, she dons one of her many custom tails from Germany, swishing through the water like an actual sea creature. She swims daily at Kealakekua Bay or Two Steps in Hōnaunau Bay, attracting considerable attention in and out of the ocean. It’s a far cry from her former incarnation as a renowned attorney wearing a power suit in Alameda. In fact, Reynolds was voted best attorney in town in 2016 just one month before she gave it all up to open a bed-and-breakfast in Kona with her husband, Bud.
Named by Forbes as one of the top-10 leading attorneys in California in 2009, Reynolds specialized in estate planning, wills, trusts and probate for more than 20 years. Working her tail off, so to speak, she had about 3,000 clients and was preparing 40 trusts a month. After years of hard work, she reached the peak of what she thought the American dream should be, but wondered why she wasn’t happy.
“I had sacrificed so much of myself because I was becoming a workaholic,” she recalls. “I’d work late hours every night and didn’t allow myself to be feminine. A part of me was missing. I was trained in law school not to value femininity. I suppressed those qualities over logic, reasoning, analytics and having the right pedigrees. When I wore a masculine suit to the courtroom, I felt like I was in a costume doing an act on a stage.”
Reynolds doesn’t discount the importance of her former career, though, primarily because she helped countless people avoid the misery of probate court. Her initial goal in becoming an attorney, in fact, was to help those less fortunate. Having come from a low-income background, she single-handedly put herself through law school, and graduated with honors from Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., becoming top of her class in international human rights.
Not wanting to be a corporate lawyer, she started out as a civil rights attorney in Oakland, California, making $35,000 a year. She also took on civil rights cases pro bono, receiving national awards for her work on Capitol Hill.
While a visiting scholar at Berkeley Law, she worked with famed civil rights attorney Pamela Price, as well as with attorney George Holland representing rape victims. Even though she was winning cases on behalf of her clients, she soured on civil rights litigation after seeing how young women were re-victimized time and again in the harsh courtroom setting.
“I got into estate planning because I knew I could help people stay out of the horrid court system,” she says. “Middle-income and poor families were paying the price because they didn’t have trusts. It was horrible to watch how the state of California was ruining people’s lives just because people hadn’t put their wishes in writing. I really wanted to help them.”
Helping folks stay afloat in their lives comes naturally to Reynolds, who lived for 10 years on a sailboat on Alameda Marina, where her law office was located.
Earlier this year, Reynolds saved a snorkeler’s life at Ho‘okena Beach, while wearing her mermaid tail. She recounts how the woman in distress was having an asthma attack in the water, which made her lungs fill with water. Reynolds kept the woman calm while swimming her to shore 15 minutes away.
“Her husband yelled for help when we got close enough to be heard, and a local man came out to greet us with a boogie board,” Reynolds recalls.
“Once we had her supported on the board, I swam as fast as I could in my tail to shore to find her inhaler and bring it to her. After about 20 minutes, we were able to get her breathing better, and I drove her to the hospital about 20 minutes away. She spent two days in the ICU to recover, and then stayed with us at the B&B.”
At Mermaid Dreams Bed & Breakfast, Reynolds and Bud have created an inspired mermaid-themed retreat on 1.8 acres of land. The five-bedroom, five-bath home — complete with beautiful mermaid art, singing orchids, seashells, and mermaid-inspired food and libations — welcomes guest on a journey of self-discovery. Reynolds says the B&B offers a destination for people looking for something magical to happen in their lives.
“When guests find out that I went from being a lawyer to a mermaid, it makes them wonder if they can summon the courage to do what they really want to do in life,” she says. “I get letters from guests saying that when they got back home, they quit their job to become a yoga teacher, for example, living their dreams.”
Throughout her career as an attorney, the core question she answers for clients was: Is it going to be OK? The process of planning for death is to take the necessary steps in advance to ensure that everything will be OK for the client and their loved ones in the future.
“That translates here at the B&B. I give guests a big hug and let them know that I’m going to take care of them. This is our home, and people are a part of our lives. It’s like an international slumber party every night of the week taking care of people. This mermaid mansion is absolutely real. I’ve witnessed lives really start to change. It’s so gratifying to just sit and talk to people about how to make their dreams happen.”