Former KS Supreme Ct. Chief Justice Kay McFarland dies

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - Hon. Kay McFarland, the first female Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court, passed away Tuesday morning. She was 80 years old.

An obituary posted by Penwell-Gabel indicated McFarland died peacefully at her home following a short illness. Gov. Sam Brownback has ordered flags lowered to half-staff to honor her.

“My wife Mary and I, extend our deepest sympathies to the entire McFarland family,” he said. “Kay McFarland dedicated her life to public service and the pursuit of justice. Our prayers are with her entire family at this difficult time.”

McFarland was born in Coffeyville and moved to Topeka when her father was named superintendent for USD 501. The family built a home on what is now known as the McFarland Farm development.

McFarland became the first woman selected to serve on the court when she was sworn in September 19, 1977. In an interview marking her 30th anniversary with the Court in 2007, she told 13 NEWS her career developed at a very different time for women. She remembers a school counselor talking to her about possible careers and saying teaching, nursing and secretary were her options.

McFarland chose the law. She says she was the only full-time female student in her law school class.

It was the start of a career breaking barriers. She first took the bench in Shawnee County in 1971 as the county's first woman elected to a judgeship. In 1973, she was elected a Shawnee County District Court judge - the first female district court judge in the state. September 19, 1977, she took her oath as the first female justice on the Kansas Supreme Court. She says she knew the benchmark was important because of how much everyone talked about it, but she didn't treat it as any big deal. In a 1977 interview with 13 NEWS, she said she didn't see a male view of the law and a female view of the law, only the law.

McFarland served 14 years as Chief Justice of the state's high court. She recalled seeing the court move from handwritten journal entries to computers and internet access. She said the changes make the court more open to the public which she says is a plus.

Of the many cases she handled, McFarland named the school finance case as the biggest because of the impact it had on so many people.

By law, a Justice cannot begin a new term after age 70, leading to McFarland's decision to retire in January 2009.

A Celebration of Life service for McFarland will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, August 22, at Penwell Gabel Southwest Chapel, 3700 SW Wanamaker Road. Burial will follow at Mount Hope Cemetery. Visitation will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, August 21, at the funeral home.

McFarland did not marry. Her obituary indicates she is survived by her former sister-in-law, Pat Hess, and is remembered by many members of her court family throughout the state.

Memorial contributions may be made to Friends of the Topeka Zoo, 635 SW Gage, Topeka, KS 66606.