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Former Washington Supreme Court Justice Mary Fairhurst dies at 64

Fairhurst served as Chief Justice from 2017 to 2020.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Mary Elizabeth Fairhurst, a former Washington Supreme Court Justice, died Tuesday evening at the age of 64, according to the state courts.

She died surrounded by family in Olympia after battling colon cancer on and off for more than a decade.

Fairhurst became a justice on the state Supreme Court in 2003. She would retire in 2020 after serving three years as Chief Justice.

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

Fairhurst graduated from Gonzaga Law School magna cum laude and was the youngest-ever president of the Washington Bar Association. When she was elected to the state Supreme Court in 2002, it created the court’s first-ever female majority.

Throughout her legal career, Fairhurst received various honors and awards for such things as her dedication to public service, access to justice and the advancement of the legal profession.

In her 2019 State of the Judiciary address, Fairhurst announced that she was battling colon cancer for the third time since her initial 2008 diagnosis. She underwent chemotherapy while continuing to work on the Supreme Court’s bench.

Her decision to keep working was driven by her continued belief in miracles. While announcing the return of her cancer, she said, “As Albert Einstein said, there are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle, and the other is as though everything is a miracle. Everything is a miracle. Every day is a miracle. Let’s not waste the days we have. Working individually and together, on behalf of those we faithfully serve, we can and are making a difference.”

During her address to a joint session of state lawmakers in January 2019, Fairhurst said, “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. None of us know how many days we have to make a difference. This is especially true for me.”

When she announced her retirement in January 2020, Fairhurst explained “with a clear head and a sad heart” that her time to leave the court had come and that she would be focused on her health going forward. 

She was three years into a four-year term as Chief Justice.

“It has been my honor and privilege to serve as a justice of this court since 2003, particularly as the Chief Justice for the past three years," she said. "I am so proud of the work we’ve done as a branch during this time and feel the time is right to focus on my health.”

Gov. Jay Inslee released a statement on Fairhurst's death Wednesday morning. It read in part, "I am deeply saddened about the loss of Justice Mary Fairhurst. 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."

Fairhurst spent her days in retirement with the love of her life Bob Douglas and her family in Olympia.

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