The theme for this year’s Women’s History Month is “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to be Silenced.” It is mostly carried over from the 2020 theme, as the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic canceled many plans to celebrate last year. We managed to celebrate this theme through our “Read Aloud” series and our Law Day activities. So, much like our celebration of Black History Month, we would like to celebrate those who inspired, mentored, and helped women become judicial leaders in Georgia.
Each weekday in March we will post a new response on our social media pages; Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Sometimes the social media posts will be shortened to stay within a certain length, but the full responses can be found here.
“My mother has been a huge inspiration to me. She was a public school teacher who taught me work ethic and that investment in children, especially those who are often given up on by others, is always worth your time. My mom spent most of her career teaching 6th grade, a challenging transition year for many children. While teaching, she often held a second job after school and during the summers. She taught both my sister and me that hard work pays off, in academics and in life. She was also devoted to her students. I was always amazed at the number of high school graduates that contacted her years later to thank her for her support during the middle school years. My mom continues to provide me encouragement today.”
“As children of the Depression living in rural Georgia, my parents knew the value of hard work and dedication. At the age of 14, my dad lost his father suddenly. He was the “oldest” and had to quit school to become the breadwinner for his mom and young siblings. He went to work full-time at a local lumber company. As a result, he and my mother believed that a strong educational background would result in being an independent and self-reliant adult. They pushed me to pursue my dreams by attending college and then law school. Along the way, I was also fortunate to have strong teachers that challenged me. My parents instilled in me a strong work ethic. They firmly believed that each of us should give back to the communities that allowed our lives to become enriched.”
I have had the privilege of being mentored by some of the best lawyers in this State. While the ones mentioned here are not the only ones, they each represent a different stage of my legal career.
My first legal job was for attorney David Walbert, who hired me to work as a runner while I was in college and who inspired me to move to Augusta to pursue a career as a prosecutor. While at the Augusta DA’s office, I tried over 50 felony jury trials in 3 and ½ years. I appeared before some of the toughest judges I have ever known who challenged me to become a better lawyer. While it wasn’t always easy, those formative years had an indelible impact on my personal and professional growth.
Next, I went to work for Attorney General Michael Bowers as a public corruption prosecutor. Mike taught me that doing what is right is not always going to be easy, and he was right. His service to the people of the State of Georgia was exemplary, and his guidance and leadership were invaluable.
For the following nine years, I worked for a boutique law firm in Dunwoody, Gray, Hedrick & Edenfield. They taught me everything I know about civil law. But they also taught me some of the most important things about being a good lawyer – hard work, integrity, compassion, fairness, and humility. They taught me always to try to do the right thing. And if I don’t get it right the first time, keep trying until I do.
I am so grateful to have had the chance to learn from each one of them.
“Forever, I will be inspired by the life of my late father Joseph A. Wiltshire, a true measure of a man. Growing up in a small southern town, there were so many who encouraged and supported me, as they poured into me the ability to believe in myself. But in our community, even before I was old enough to make any meaningful contribution, I was keenly aware of the impact that my father had on our community. Many of my life lessons, stem from his generous spirit. I don’t recall the first time I heard, “to whom much is given, much is required,” but I heard it often. My father was a community activist in his own way and set on increasing the number of medical professionals in the area. He believed that “[he] was his brother’s keeper,” and encouraged us, as children, to share what we had with others. As a child, I was reminded that although I may not have everything I wanted, I did have what I needed, and that was a blessing. He told me the blessings were given to me, not for me to keep them but the blessings were meant to be shared with others because “to whom much is given, much is required.”
“My father Albert Jack Chessher inspired me to pursue my dreams. He was a WWII veteran that lost his right arm and received serious injuries in battle. Dad returned to the States to face multiple surgeries at various VA hospitals across the country. He worked hard to overcome his disabilities and became a successful business man in the poultry industry. My father instilled in me a strong sense of self esteem and taught me that I could achieve anything I wanted to with hard work and determination.”
“Both of my parents have had a major impact on my life. They encouraged me and taught me the importance of having a servant’s heart. However, my mother has inspired and mentored me the most. She was the first female Probate Judge in Butts County, having served 24 years on the bench before her retirement. Being able to follow in her footsteps in the judiciary has been such an honor and humbling experience. I would not be who I am today without her example, love, and support.”
“My father, Donald W. Gettle, Emory L62, was my inspiration to attend Emory Law School. He was brilliant and acerbic; the archetypal law school professor. My mother was the first woman hired in the State of Georgia Department of Human Resources as their Public Relations officer. They both set a very high bar! Upon graduation, in 1979, I was fortunate to receive an offer to work as a staff attorney for Chief Judge Tom Camp, State Court of Fulton County. While there, I met Judge Dorothy Toth Beasley, the first woman appointed to the Fulton County State Court, in 1977. While I worked at the State Court, I listened to Judge Beasley when she was on the bench and during judges meetings. She rarely let people ruffle her, including older gentlemen that did not always take her seriously. Judge Beasley always responded to people in a respectful and interested manner; even staff attorneys. She was appointed to the Georgia Court of Appeals in 1984, and successfully lobbied to add “and women” to the Court of Appeals’ motto, which now reads: “Upon the integrity, wisdom, and independence of the judiciary depend the sacred rights of free men and women.” Hopefully, I have learned from her example. I am also inspired by my good friend, Judge Rashida Oliver, Municipal Court of East Point. She is strong, smart, fearless and beautiful. Judge Oliver protects the rights of everyone that walks, or zooms, into her court; she sets the bar for all of us. Hopefully, I have learned from her example, as well.”
“My mother and paternal grandmother are the two people who have most inspired me and who helped mold me into the woman and judge I am today. My mom taught me to treat everyone with kindness, to forgive freely, to always assume the best about everyone. She was also an incredibly hard worker who never gave less than her best to her employer or her family. My grandmother encouraged my love of reading and passion for knowledge. She was a graduate of Agnes Scott, a successful playwright, and the first female director of advertising for Davison-Paxon at age 26. She taught me that I could accomplish all of my goals and dreams, so long as I did not let fear get in my way.“
“My grandparents and my parents have always served as my inspiration in life and work. My grandfather was a single father at a time when that was very rare. He dropped out of law school during the Great Depression to raise two young boys, my dad and my uncle. He sacrificed professionally for his family and raised two successful men. Ironically, my mother was also raised by a single parent, her mother, who worked two jobs to support my mom and send her to college. Both grandparents were an integral part of my life until their passing. I will never forget or take for granted the sacrifices they made for my parents, and I realize the values my mom and dad instilled in me came directly from their parents.
Both my parents emphasized education and exemplified hard work. My father went on to law school and a distinguished career as an Army lawyer where he served in Vietnam and around the country. From a young child, I was taught that I could accomplish anything, and my parents demonstrated how hard work and persistence can overcome boundaries. While in high school, when my Dad had to work, my mom took me around Germany, where I went to high school, and to the United States to compete in debate competitions. I will always remember a valuable gem from my dad that arose from one of those tournaments. The final debate involved the First Amendment. When I asked my dad what I should say about this, he said the following: “While I will always resent the things that people have said and done to disrespect this country, I will always defend their right to say and do them.” I know he is proud that I answered the call to serve. I lost my dad two weeks before Governor Kemp called to ask if I would serve on the Supreme Court. On January 7, with my husband, mom and brother at my side and my dad in my heart, I took the oath as a Georgia Supreme Court Justice.”
“Two Atlanta lawyers at the first firm I worked with, Peggy Brockington and Anne Lewis, both mentored and inspired me. Peggy taught me how to practice law, all the nuts and bolts of how to handle a legal matter. And Anne taught me other things one needs to know not only to be successful, but also respectful to those working with, for, and against you in the practice of law.”
“My late grandmother Mary C. Scales was my inspiration. She was an educator, community leader, devoted wife and mother. She loved her community. As a community leader, she advocated for controversial issues of her day like civil rights and women’s rights. She always encouraged me to be bold and pursue my dreams. I remember asking her to help me write and practice my speech for the 7th grade Junior Beta Club election. I can’t remember what position I ran for, but at the end of the speech, In a packed middle school auditorium, I lifted my arms in the air and yelled “THIS IS THE YEAR OF THE WOMAN”. Not only did I get elected, but so did every other girl who ran for office in that election. She was my biggest cheerleader. I have many more stories and fond memories of our time together. “
“I always have been and continue to be inspired by my parents. From my father teaching me that one of the best gifts a person can have is the ability to relate to anyone to my mother always reminding me that I can do anything if I work hard enough, I have learned that not only is my glass half full, it is refillable. What has been inspiring me this past year is South Georgia sunsets which I believe are God’s way of reminding us that after we’ve made it through yet another challenging day, he is always there to paint us a beautiful picture.”
Who inspired you? “First is my amazing mother. She is strong, extremely intelligent, expects excellence of herself and those around her but was generous with affection and love, advice and information, and insight (not to mention, patient which was often necessary being my mom.) I cannot understand how much I look up to and love my amazing mom. Next was a woman named Alice French. I worked with her at a local community access TV station in Lubbock Texas (in another life in my first career.) She was intelligent, visionary, and exceptionally kind and loving. She taught me that you can be kind and still be a very effective leader. Most recently, and my most direct professional mentor is Professor Mary Radford. Again, an exceedingly intelligent, organized, patient visionary who introduced me to probate law and its unique ability to protect the vulnerable among us and provide comfort to those in pain and crisis. She listens, teaches, accepts feedback, is humble, and has never failed to answer even the most challenging (or stupid) question I have asked over the years. She has become a friend but remains a hero.”
“My mom and dad inspire me through their hard work, dedication to community, and devotion to my brother and me. Every day I work to be the kind of leader, community member, and parent they modeled for me.”
“As a little girl, I was always inspired by Justice Thurgood Marshall and how he was able to use his knowledge and experience to effect positive and tangible change for everyone simply because it was the right thing to do. My grandparents William & Pearlena Dear also inspired me because despite neither of them attending college, they taught me many life lessons. Those lessons form many of my core values – many I use on the bench: keep God first, follow the rules, work hard, make change because it is needed and not because you want it, be honest, do what’s right and best the first time, treat everyone with dignity and respect, and always be a servant leader. “
“I was mentored by many, starting with, most importantly my mother and also my grandmothers but also women in my church and community. I have the best mom and was lucky to live in the same town with both grandmothers. Martha Hope directed Camp Fire Girls locally, and we shared a birthday, so we had a special bond. She gave me my first job as a camp counselor. Lucy Link was my Sunday School teacher when I was in high school, and she prepared us to deal with anything life could throw us. At Furman, my advisor, Glen Halva-Neubauer pushed me but never sugar-coated anything. After law school, Judge Hulane George, of the Ocumulgee Judicial Circuit, encouraged me and showed me how to gracefully manage a courtroom. Isaac Newton was right that we all see farther by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
“As for your question about inspiration, I would have to say that my family (parents and grandparents) inspired me growing up. They were ALWAYS very supportive of everything that I did or wanted to do. They pushed me and challenged me. They were a source of great support – morally, emotionally, academically. After becoming an attorney, my husband (Ray) and my three boys (Conner, Bryce and Brooks) added tremendously to that support. They make me a better person and bring out the best in me, which I truly believe makes me a better attorney and judge. As for mentors, I owe a debt of gratitude to the older members of our local bar at the time I became interested in law. I interned while in high school for two hours a day with two local attorneys, Rusty Simpson and Joe Gray. I also worked with them during the summers while in law school, and they offered me a job upon graduation. They had different areas of practice and different ways of practicing, so I got the best “hands on experience” and education that was possible. And our local bar was wonderful! As a young attorney, anytime I had a question or needed help – or just looked like I was lost – someone was always there to offer their help and guidance. They were true characters, but their sense of professionalism and camaraderie made you feel special and a part of something wonderful. They truly wanted you to succeed as an attorney and counselor at law, and they wanted to be a part in helping you obtain that success.”
Who inspired you?
“The women who raised me. My mother, she raised two children while struggling with grief and addiction and died when I was 21. My grandmother, a Southern lady, attended college, a lifelong learner, traveled the world, and supported me financially and emotionally to aspire to anything I wanted to be. My other grandmother, the quiet but strong matriarch, a farmer’s wife, married at 16, she shared her love and support generously with all her grandchildren and instilled in me a strong faith, the importance of hard work, and the ability to just listen.”
“My first job out of law school was clerking for Judge William C. O’Kelley in the Northern District of Georgia, and he was the one who inspired me to apply for my first judgeship. Judge O’Kelley was the consummate judge with all of the qualities that you expect of a judge – knowledgeable, fair, unbiased, and hard-working – but he also treated everyone with whom he came into contact with respect and dignity. I always consulted with Judge O’Kelley first whenever I was contemplating a career change and aside from my family, he was my biggest supporter. My only regret about my recent appointment to the Supreme Court is that I was not able to share that moment with him.”
Who inspired you?
“My mother taught me the strength of women. She passed away in April of 2020 on her own terms. The power vacuum she left in our family made me realize how lucky I was to have such a model of fortitude to raise me. She was throwing literal and metaphorical punches until the bitter end, and I hope to do the same.”
“My parents instilled in me from a very young age the importance of hard work. They always told me to “make a difference” anytime I was on the soccer field. I have carried that into my career and always strive to make a difference in whatever I do. My sister has cultivated and inspired a strength in me that pushes me to do the right thing even when it isn’t the easiest thing.”
Who inspired you?
“I am inspired by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. One of my mentors and closest friends is Cheryl Custer. She became my boss in the Rockdale County District Attorney’s office when she was appointed the first female District Attorney in the State in 1991.”
Who mentored and who inspired you?
“When I think of the women who mentored me there are many, in fact too many to name but one who I can specifically mention is my mother, Geneva Britten. She along with women who served as school teachers, administrators, professors, colleagues and my sister friends have all mentored and inspired me in various ways. From my mother who did not allow “can’t” to be in my vocabulary, to the teacher who told me to walk in confidence even before I gained confidence, to my girlfriends who believed in and remembered my dreams for me and supported me in all my quests- each of them have help nurture me to be who I am personally and professionally. They all, each of them, inspired me to always step forward. They have been my cheerleaders and my support system and for that I am eternally grateful.”