Former Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey, the first woman in the state to hold the position, has died, the court announced Wednesday.
"Colorado has lost a pioneering leader who worked tirelessly to improve the justice system and how it treated people as they navigated its often-difficult pathways," the Colorado Supreme Court said in a press release.
She was 77 years old.
Mullarkey spent 23 years on the state's highest court and 12 years as its chief justice before retiring in November 2010. She was the longest-serving chief justice in state history.
She was born in Wisconsin in 1943 and received her law degree from Harvard Law School in 1968.
She held various positions as an attorney in the federal and state governments before former Gov. Roy Romer appointed her to the Colorado Supreme Court in 1987. She was only the second woman to serve on the court at the time.
Mullarkey was picked as chief justice in 1998 — the first female to serve in the position.
In her time on the Supreme Court, she authored hundreds of opinions and oversaw various innovations and improvements to the court systems.
"She strengthened the Judicial Branch’s ability to withstand and recover from budget setbacks, called on court personnel to make the operations of the Judicial Department more consumer-friendly, encouraged judges to become more involved in their communities, and resolutely sought to improve diversity in the legal profession," the Colorado Supreme Court said.
Current Chief Justice Brian D. Boatright said Mullarkey was a consummate public servant.
"She dedicated her wisdom, knowledge and compassion to improving our justice system in countless ways, from requiring safe places for children in all the state’s courthouses to making our state a leader in information technology for the courts," Boatright said. "Outside of her legal work, she also will be remembered for her decade-long effort to replace the old and inadequate seat of the Colorado Judicial Branch with the magnificent Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center.”
Justice Monica M. Márquez said Mullarkey was an inspiration to women who admired her tenacity in overcoming challenges.
“Hearing her stories about being one of just a few women in her class at the Harvard Law School, for example, was a reminder of how hard she and other pioneers worked to blaze a trail for other women in the law," Márquez said. "She was a powerful early advocate for diversity in the legal profession, including our courts, and her hard work forged a lasting legacy in Colorado.”
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis also issued a statement on Wednesday, in which he called Mullarkey "an extraordinary individual with an unparalleled mind."
He said as the first chief justice, she inspired countless future jurists.
"I’ll never forget when she swore me in for my first public office, the State Board of Education in 2001," Polis said. "Justice Mullarkey never allowed multiple sclerosis to slow her down, but continued to bring compassion, zeal, and wisdom to the court. She is already deeply missed.”