Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series of stories about the three Gonzaga University alumnae on the Washington State Supreme Court. Last month, @Gonzaga featured Chief Justice Barbara Madsen. The January 2011 issue will feature Justice Debra L. Stephens.
By Peter Tormey
SPOKANE, Wash. – Mary E. Fairhurst became a lawyer to help people and has helped many as an attorney, justice on the state’s highest court and as a legal leader, serving as president of the State Bar Association and Washington Women Lawyers, among many leadership roles.
Elected in 2002, the daughter of former Gonzaga Vice President Stan Fairhurst, began serving as a Washington Supreme Court justice in 2003. Mary said her large family told her she would be a great lawyer.
“But I didn’t have any lawyers in my family, so I didn’t know exactly what that meant besides watching ‘Perry Mason,’ and of course I wanted to be Penny Mason,” said Fairhurst, whose aptitude tests were “off the charts” indicating she should be a priest or lawyer.
“As a Catholic, being a priest wasn’t an option for me, and still isn’t, but being a lawyer was,” she said. A variety of jobs in politics after earning a Gonzaga bachelor’s degree (’79) convinced her the best opportunity to “make a difference” for others was to become a lawyer.
“It was really to make a difference and to serve people,” said Fairhurst, who comes from a long line of Jesuit-educated people anxious to help others. Her grandfather graduated from Gonzaga in 1912, followed by her father in the mid-1950s.
“Five of my six siblings have degrees from Gonzaga, and so I always wanted to serve,” she said. “And I thought law would be an excellent way for me to do that.”
Fairhurst, who earned a Gonzaga law degree in 1984, said she’d advise those considering a legal career to ask themselves, “What is your passion?” and “what would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”
“If they believe law school really is their calling, that that’s what their vocation, their passion is helping people in this adversarial process, to help achieve results in a peaceful manner, then they should go to law school,” she said. “I think it’s OK to put it off if you’re not sure.”
View video below of Justice Fairhurst discussing:
- How her job allows her to serve others,
- Advice for those considering a legal career, and
- Why she enjoys being a state Supreme Court Justice