State Supreme Justice Mary Fairhurst
Washington State Supreme Court Justice Mary Fairhurst listens to oral argument in the McCleary case (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/Northwest Progressive Institute)

One of Wash­ing­ton State’s best, most dis­tin­guished jurists has passed on, the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court announced this morn­ing.

Retired Wash­ing­ton Supreme Court Jus­tice Mary Fairhurst died peace­ful­ly at her home last night, sur­round­ed by her fam­i­ly, a state­ment from the Court said.

Fairhurst had been bat­tling can­cer since 2008, and chose to retire from the Supreme Court almost two years ago, cit­ing the need to focus on her health.

“I want to remind you that time is pre­cious. For what­ev­er rea­sons, this is our indi­vid­ual and col­lec­tive time and place. It is when and where we are serv­ing,” Jus­tice Fairhurst remarked in a speech to a joint ses­sion of the Leg­is­la­ture in 2019. (At the time, Fairhurst was serv­ing as Chief Jus­tice.) “None of us know how many days we have to make a dif­fer­ence. This is espe­cial­ly true for me.”

Fairhurst was sixty-four.

The NPI team has long admired and appre­ci­at­ed Jus­tice Fairhurst’s work. Last year, fol­low­ing her retire­ment, NPI pre­sent­ed Jus­tice Fairhurst with the Lynn Allen Award, NPI’s high­est hon­or. Jus­tice Fairhurst’s cita­tion reads as follows:

An excep­tion­al and wide­ly respect­ed jurist, Mary Fairhurst served the peo­ple as an Asso­ciate Jus­tice and Chief Jus­tice of the Wash­ing­ton State Supreme Court for sev­en­teen years after work­ing in the Attor­ney General’s office in many roles, includ­ing as divi­sion chief. While on the Court, she authored the major­i­ty opin­ion in Gre­go­ry that struck down the death penal­ty in Wash­ing­ton State, as well as the lead­ing dis­sent in the Ander­son case, which sought an affir­ma­tion that laws against mar­riage equal­i­ty were incom­pat­i­ble with the Con­sti­tu­tion. In anoth­er notable case, League of Edu­ca­tion Vot­ers, she helped pro­tect Washington’s cher­ished tra­di­tion of major­i­ty rule in the Leg­is­la­ture. Her work eth­ic and sta­mi­na in the face of repeat­ed can­cer diag­noses demon­strate her pro­fes­sion­al­ism and pas­sion for justice.

Take a few moments to watch Jus­tice Fairhurst’s accep­tance speech, orig­i­nal­ly deliv­ered to NPI’s guests and sup­port­ers, by press­ing Play below. You’ll hear Mary tell her famous starfish sto­ry as part of these remarks:

Los­ing Jus­tice Fairhurst hurts. She was one of the best of us. She con­sis­tent­ly mod­eled exem­plary lead­er­ship and treat­ed oth­ers with kind­ness and respect.

Our team extends our deep­est con­do­lences to Jus­tice Fairhurst’s fam­i­ly, oth­er friends, and sur­viv­ing col­leagues on the Supreme Court.

Fit­ting­ly, each col­league who served with Fairhurst made a con­tri­bu­tion to the state­ment the Court released hon­or­ing her and con­firm­ing her death.

“Chief Jus­tice Fairhurst was an inspi­ra­tion to every­one. She was always pos­i­tive yet with both feet on the ground,” said Chief Jus­tice Steven González.

“We are grate­ful for her lead­er­ship and for the time she shared so gen­er­ous­ly with all of us and send our con­do­lences to her entire family.”

“Jus­tice Fairhurst pos­sessed an incred­i­ble inner strength and main­tained a pos­i­tive atti­tude and a gen­uine con­cern and empa­thy for oth­ers less for­tu­nate,” said Asso­ciate Chief Jus­tice Charles W. Johnson.

“Mary believed in pub­lic ser­vice, but she believed more in know­ing each per­son she served. For Mary, ser­vice had names and faces,” said Jus­tice Bar­bara Mad­sen. “She believed in good­ness, beau­ty, pur­pose, and love. Life has been bet­ter for a lot of peo­ple because Mary cared about them.”

“Not only was Mary a great attor­ney and Jus­tice, but she was always one of the kind­est peo­ple I know. Undoubt­ed­ly she was the most sin­cere — and sure­ly — the most fun with whom to laugh,” said Jus­tice Susan Owens.

“Mary was the most authen­tic, lov­ing per­son I have ever known. She tru­ly made no dis­tinc­tion between her work life and her home life in terms of val­ues and per­son­al phi­los­o­phy — she was a friend to every­one she met,” said Jus­tice Debra Stephens. “I’m remind­ed of the say­ing that, ‘jus­tice is what love looks like in pub­lic.’ Mary embod­ied that, and she was a bril­liant jus­tice because she under­stood that work­ing for jus­tice is an act of love.”

“Mary stands out as a bea­con of hope, car­ing, and heal­ing — qual­i­ties we so des­per­ate­ly need all the time, but espe­cial­ly now. I am so sor­ry that we lost her big heart, her inclu­sion of all of us in the judi­cial branch as fam­i­ly, and her lead­er­ship in uphold­ing the qual­i­ty and inde­pen­dence of the judi­cial branch,” said Jus­tice Sheryl Gor­don McCloud.

“And I am trag­i­cal­ly sor­ry to have lost her per­son­al advice to me about hope­ful­ness, open­ness, col­le­gial­i­ty, and kindness.”

“So, to try to learn from Mary’s teach­ing, I should also say:  what won­der­ful gifts Mary gave me!  She could fill me with hope when I was down, com­pas­sion when I was angry, appre­ci­a­tion for a dif­fer­ent point of view when I was stub­born, and con­nec­tion with com­mu­ni­ty when I was alone. Also a good drink when I was thirsty! Thank you for every­thing, Mary.”

“Mary was among the most coura­geous and lov­ing indi­vid­u­als I have known; her coura­geous opin­ion on behalf of LGBTQ+ fam­i­lies was his­tor­i­cal and it has nev­er been for­got­ten,” said Jus­tice Mary Yu. “Mary’s mir­a­cle was grant­ed so many times in her life­time and I am just grate­ful to have had extra time with her to laugh, break bread, and to tell sto­ries of love and trav­el.  We shall miss her, but those who loved her know that we must car­ry for­ward her spir­it of opti­mism and joy.”

“Chief Jus­tice Fairhurst wel­comed me to the bench with her trade­mark grace, trust and love,” said Jus­tice Raquel Mon­toya-Lewis. “I will be for­ev­er grate­ful for her kind­ness and her com­mit­ment to justice.”

“Mary meant the world to me and all the staff at the Supreme Court,” said Cindy Phillips, her assis­tant for more than two decades.

“The best deci­sion I ever made was to say yes when she asked me to work with her at the Court. I learned from her every day.”

“I am deeply sad­dened about the loss of Jus­tice Mary Fairhurst,” said Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee in a sep­a­rate statement.

“She was a tal­ent­ed legal mind, a won­der­ful, thought­ful per­son and a ded­i­cat­ed pub­lic ser­vant. Mary was deeply com­mit­ted to her com­mu­ni­ty and was always try­ing to find ways to sup­port those most in need.”

“She will be remem­bered for her gen­eros­i­ty, com­pas­sion and courage. Mary cham­pi­oned mar­riage equal­i­ty and stood firm against the death penalty.”

“Mary led on access to jus­tice for low-income indi­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies, enhanced oppor­tu­ni­ties for women and peo­ple of col­or in the legal pro­fes­sion and worked to increase pub­lic legal edu­ca­tion for chil­dren and young people.”

“Pri­or to being elect­ed to the State Supreme Court, she served as an assis­tant attor­ney gen­er­al for six­teen years. Many years lat­er she served as umpire for friend­ly soft­ball games between my staff and Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Ferguson’s staff. She had a deep love of base­ball, with an endur­ing com­mit­ment to the Seat­tle Mariners.”

“Through­out her long bat­tle with can­cer, Mary remained stead­fast and upbeat. Her pos­i­tive atti­tude and resilience were an inspi­ra­tion to all who had the plea­sure and priv­i­lege of know­ing her. Tru­di and I send our con­do­lences to her fam­i­ly, friends and col­leagues. She will be great­ly missed.”

“There are few peo­ple in recent years who have been as beloved in the judi­cia­ry, the Gon­za­ga Law alum­ni com­mu­ni­ty, the Attor­ney General’s Office, or the Bar Asso­ci­a­tion than Chief Jus­tice Mary Fairhurst,” said Wash­ing­ton State Trea­sur­er Mike Pel­lic­ciot­ti. “There is a rea­son she became the leader of every orga­ni­za­tion or insti­tu­tion she joined. And while her pass­ing is a painful and tremen­dous loss to the peo­ple of Wash­ing­ton, the joy she brought wher­ev­er she went was always con­ta­gious and will con­tin­ue on with all who knew her, as we con­tin­ue to think of her and all she gave in ser­vice to our state. She will tru­ly be missed.”

“A friend, a men­tor, a leader, a teacher, an expe­ri­encer of mir­a­cles and joy. Mary left this world ear­ly this morn­ing and I am con­fi­dent that I will miss her forever.
Mary was cen­tral to so many impor­tant parts of our lives. She hired both Lau­ra and me into the Attor­ney Gen­er­al’s Office,” said Speak­er Lau­rie Jinkins.

“She helped bring mar­riage equal­i­ty to Wash­ing­ton, writ­ing the dis­sent in Wash­ing­ton’s own case find­ing a ban on LGBTQ mar­riages to be con­sti­tu­tion­al. She presided over our wed­ding and swore me in as Speak­er of the House, one of her last acts as a Supreme Court Justice.”

“I am expe­ri­enc­ing the strangest feel­ings of both heart­break and joy for hav­ing had her in my life while know­ing that she will con­tin­ue to be with me every day.”

Thank you for every­thing, Jus­tice Fairhurst. Your good work on this plan­et is fin­ished, but your con­tri­bu­tions and lega­cy will long endure!

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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