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!