Justice Mary Ann G. McMorrow, the first woman to serve on the Illinois Supreme Court and its former chief justice, died Saturday after a brief illness. She was 83.
McMorrow was used to making history even before her ascension to the state's highest court. She was the only woman to graduate from her class at the School of Law at Loyola University in 1953, where she was class president and associate editor of the law review.
The Chicago native also was the first woman to try felony cases as an assistant Cook County state's attorney, during which time she was told by her male supervisor that women did not argue cases before the state Supreme Court -- a court she would later sit on and lead.
Elected to the circuit court in 1976 and later the appellate court in 1986, McMorrow said she never set out to be a pioneer.
"I just simply tried to do my best in every task that was presented to me," she said.
She wrote 225 majority opinions and 85 other concurring or dissenting opinions while serving on the Supreme Court. McMorrow was chief justice from 2002 to 2005, making her the first woman to head a branch of Illinois government.
"We will fondly remember Justice McMorrow and always cherish the privilege of having worked with her," Chief Justice Thomas L. Kilbride said in a statement released Sunday. "Being the first woman on the court and to serve as chief justice, she was an inspiration to all women in the law in Illinois. But through her courage, perseverance, wisdom, and character, she was a role model for all lawyers, regardless of gender."
"Her legacy looms large over the Illinois legal system, evidenced by the fact we are the first court to include three women," Kilbride added. "Justice McMorrow was top-tier. She was devoted to the law and justice; but was always collegial and good-humored. We will all miss her grace, elegance and style. Most of all, we shall miss her."
McMorrow won election to the Supreme Court in 1992 and was chosen as chief justice a decade later. At her swearing in ceremony as chief justice, she reportedly said, "I am the 115th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Illinois. You will notice after I take off my robe that I am the only one of the 114 chief justices who preceded me that wears a skirt."
Under her tenure, the court raised the fee attorneys pay for licenses in Illinois, providing an additional $2 million annually for the Lawyers Trust Fund, which provides funds to legal aid organizations serving low income Illinois residents.
McMorrow received numerous awards and recognitions during her career, including the 2003 Chicago Lawyer Magazine Person of the Year, the Margaret Brent Award from the American Bar Association in 2005 and the Myra Bradwell Woman of Achievement Award from the Women's Bar Association of Illinois.
McMorrow and her husband Emmett, a police officer who died of cancer in the 1980s, had one daughter, Mary Ann. The two were married for 24 years.
Justice McMorrow is survived by her daughter and her sister, Frances. Arrangements were pending Sunday.