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University Mourns Death of Law School Associate Dean Mary Emery

Monday, Aug. 8, 2011

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Aug. 8, 2011  --Santa Clara University School of Law officials are saddened to announce the death of one of the law school’s most beloved and respected members, associate dean and library director Mary Emery. Emery, 73, was one of the first three women to graduate from Santa Clara Law, and went on to become a confidante to some of the law school’s most illustrious graduates -- as classmate, professor and mentor.

She passed away this weekend from unknown causes.

A 1960 graduate of San Jose State University, Emery went on to become a pioneering member of Santa Clara University School of Law’s first class of women to graduate, in 1963. She was tapped by the then-dean to become director of the Law Library, which she helped professionalize and oversaw its growth from a three-employee, 60,000-volume resource to 23 employees and well over 392,000 volumes.

She became associate dean in the mid-1980s. 

“Mary served as a trusted confidante, conscience and sounding board for many people, including several deans,” said former dean Mack Player. “We’re tremendously saddened to have lost a trusted adviser, valued colleague, and important institutional memory for this law school.” 

Emery graduated with two other women, Patricia Stanton and Lois Mitchell, and formed what she called “hardy little bands” with male class members and friends – including U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and Associate Justice Eugene Premo of the California Courts of Appeal, Sixth District. She was a mentor and friend to U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren.

"Mary was a classmate, a dear friend, and a dedicated leader at Santa Clara Law School," Panetta said in a statement. " She devoted her life to helping students become good lawyers and, more importantly, good citizens.  Mary Emery and Santa Clara Law School will always be one -- now and forever."

"The Santa Clara women who paved the way for others to graduate from law school were brave,  confident and driven to see what they could make of their innate and considerable talents,” said Dean Donald Polden. “Even among that group, Mary was a standout -- and continued to be a tremendous asset for her intellect, Silicon Valley connections and her political acumen.  We will miss her immensely.”

On campus, the famous quote from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich “Well-behaved women seldom make history” hung outside her office door, an appropriate introduction to its feisty inhabitant. She was known around campus for being politically astute and “plugged in,” and colleagues would drop in for her counsel and perspective at election time or when major events occurred.

"Dean Mary Emery made a lasting mark on thousands of students who received their legal education at Santa Clara Law School and who went on to make positive changes in our community and country," said Lofgren. "She was wise, insightful and incredibly generous in her commitment to our community. Beyond that, she was both a mentor and friend to me. I will never forget her, and feel profound grief at her passing."
During her 47-year tenure, Emery has also spearheaded successful efforts to admit more female students and hire more female faculty, and took great pride in her contributions to minority recruitment, likening it to the struggle she and her fellow coeds endured.

In a video on SCU’s website, Emery said she set out when she first got here to just make it through the first year of law school – something that no other woman had managed to do since doors were opened to them in the late 1950s, the heart of the sexual revolution and era of civil rights.

In addition to retaining faculty status and directing the library, she has remained active in school and local legal groups, including co-chairing the law school’s alumni centennial steering committee. She has been a board member for non-profit organizations such as the Legal Aid Society of Santa Clara, Bill Wilson Center, a youth shelter, and the United Way. An alumna of her beloved Notre Dame High School, she was also a member of the Provincial Development Board for the Sisters of Notre Dame.

 Among the awards she received over her academic career were the Community Service Award from Women in Law (1994); Owens Lawyer of the Year (1989); special recognition award from the Student Bar Association (1972).

She was co-chair of the law school’s admissions committee, and was actively involved in the American Association of Law Libraries. At the University, she was frequently called upon to join strategic boards, such as the SCU Athletic Board of Governance from 1989-1991 and the SCU Law Alumni Board of Directors Finance Committee from 1995-2008. Former University President Paul Locatelli, S.J., sought her counsel frequently.

Before she joined SCU Law full time she served as counsel with Chargin & Parker, a general practice firm in San Jose, for eight years. She served on the Santa Clara County Board of Parole Commissioners for six years and as foreman of the Santa Clara County Grand Jury, at  a time when judges selected the person to hold that role.

Emery is survived by her brother Paul K. Birmingham of Modesto; and her niece Sarah Birmingham (’96 BS Political Science; ’01 J.D.) of Modesto. She was preceded in death by her husband John F. Emery, and her parents Constance M. and Paul V. Birmingham (a ‘33 alumnus).

A funeral mass is planned at the Mission Church at 10 a.m. Friday, Aug. 12. A Rosary will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at Lima Family Mortuary, 466 Winchester Blvd., Santa Clara, CA 95050.

Plans are underway to establish scholarships in her name.

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