Mary Ann McMorrow: Last Interview

Chief Justice McMorrow (Ret.), who died on February 23, 2013, was the first woman to serve on the Illinois Supreme Court and the first woman to serve as chief justice. Justice McMorrow was a pioneer as a woman in the law profession during a career that spanned more than half a century. She was 83.

Today was the funeral Mass for our mentor, advocate and friend, Justice Mary Ann McMorrow. After paying their respects to daughter Mary Ann, friends and colleagues of Justice McMorrow quietly milled about the church, sharing rueful half smiles and moving stories about lives changed, careers made, and hearts touched by Mary Ann McMorrow. Colorful flower arrangements adorned the altar and punctuated a display at the church perimeter of framed photographs of McMorrow with numerous dignitaries and awards, certificates and commendations she had received over the years. As the music began, the pews filled. Ceremonial robes of all stripes appeared: bagpipers; the seven Justices of the Illinois Supreme Court; the Knights of Columbus; the Knights of Malta; and a dozen priests, monsignors and bishops con-celebrating the Mass.

There was a homily and three different eulogies, each more touching than the last. Two themes resonated through the spoken tributes to Mary Ann McMorrow: she always wanted to get it right (and inspired others to do so) and she was humble. These characteristics of Justice McMorrow resonated with me due to my last interactions with her—an interview which quite probably was her last.

Last December, as part of the Commission’s project to videotape some of the icons of the legal profession sharing their wisdom and perspectives regarding the profession and professionalism, I had the privilege of interviewing Justice McMorrow. She was gracious, insightful and eloquent, and I cannot imagine having a better interview experience. And yet, only a few days later, Justice McMorrow called our office with a request – she felt that in her interview, she could have done a better job of helping the Commission’s mission in advocating for civility and professionalism. She offered to reshoot the entire interview, at her expense, so she could do just that. I told her that her interview was perfect as it was and as proof, I would send her a copy of the finished product so she could see it for herself before we posted it on our website.

Justice McMorrow never did receive that video. She passed away on February 23, 2013. Her offer to redo her interview epitomized her humility and her drive for excellence.

She was a servant-leader. She served the people of Illinois for over forty years, as an assistant state’s attorney, circuit court judge, appellate court justice, Supreme Court justice, and finally, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Along her way, Justice McMorrow served as a mentor for many and an inspiration for all.

The Abraham Lincoln quote she used at her retirement from the Supreme Court summed up her approach “’Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it.’ This has been our guiding principle.”

She continues to inspire in the poignant message she thoughtfully prepared in advance so that it could be printed on the funeral Mass booklet:

Friends, do not grieve for me. Every wonderful, delightful thrilling experience and emotion that life has to offer has been mine. Rather, recall me with a fond smile as the mother, the sister, the friend who shared your laughter, tears, and dreams through the years. Save your sadness and sorrow for those who leave before they taste all the fine chocolate desserts of the world. I lived a goodly span of years and enjoyed them all…I’ve laughed and cried. I’ve seen a thousand sunsets and a few fresh dawns. I’ve loved a man. I’ve cradled a daughter in my arms and walked with her hand in my own. Think of all the happy times. Most of all, remember the times we were together as a family and as friends…As long as someone remembers me with a fond recall and shares a thought or two of me, I will live in you. For all who have loved and been loved have earned a piece of immortality. So do not grieve for me.

Even if you did not have personal interactions with Justice McMorrow in this life, from hearing about her good deeds and from reading and hearing her words, I think you will agree that Justice McMorrow absolutely got it right.

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