- Associated Press - Saturday, May 31, 2014

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - Growing up in the 1960s, when “professional” women equaled teachers and secretaries, Gay Blackburn Maloney considered studying law - that is, if she were a boy.

As a young girl, Maloney watched her father, a prominent Decatur attorney, discuss cases with his peers - all men - and argue in front of judges - all men. No women lawyers practiced in north Alabama, and few practiced anywhere in the country.

According to the American Bar Association, in 1970, as Maloney prepared for college, women accounted for 4 percent of lawyers in the United States. For Maloney, female attorneys were in the same magical world as unicorns and fairytales.

“When I started college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I used to think if I was a boy and I wanted to grow up to become a respectable man, I might consider going into law,” Maloney said. “I never thought of it as an option for myself because there were no women attorneys.”

This year, the woman, who as a girl deemed law an unreachable fantasy, made history in Morgan County by becoming the first woman president of the 166-member bar association.

Gay is the consummate professional and a caring empathetic person,” said Julia Roth, an attorney with Eyster Key. “Most importantly, she is a role model for young professional women.”

Maloney now serves as an inspiration for girls who dream of practicing law - an inspiration she lacked.

Not until a student at Agnes Scott College did Maloney realize a future in law could be hers.

“One of my professors talked about how law provided a unique opportunity where women could practice law, have a family and make a difference. That’s the first time it seriously crossed my mind. Law school became even more enticing my senior year, when the choices were to either enter the real world or continue my education,” Maloney said with a laugh.

In 1976, Maloney enrolled in Vanderbilt University’s school of law, one of 25 women in a class of 185.

Four years later, Maloney returned with her husband, fellow lawyer Mark Maloney, to Decatur to work with her father, city leader, former mayor and visionary of Point Mallard Park, J. Gilmer Blackburn. When she registered with the Morgan County Bar, she became the association’s first female attorney in private practice.

“You know, I never felt discriminated against. People did, however, look at me with curiosity,” said the 60-year-old Maloney, who specializes in estate planning, probate and estate administration and business law.

Maloney, then 26, found support and guidance from her father, Alabama Supreme Court Judge James Bloodworth, Decatur attorney Johnny Caddell and Vanderbilt professor Allaire Karzon.

“My feeling for law has grown over time. It has surprised me that what at first was a diversion from the real world has become a profession I really, truly enjoy. It is a way I can make a difference because lawyers are community servants,” Maloney said. “Community service was stressed in my family. It was never if you were going to give back, it was always when.”

Through her profession and civic organizations, Maloney gave back to the community that raised her and the college that educated her by serving on the Junior League of Morgan County, the alumnae association of Agnes Scott College and, eventually, helping spearhead the formation of the Rotary Club of Decatur Daybreak.

“When we moved here in 1980, it was Mark who joined the Rotary Club. At that time the club did not allow women,” Maloney said.

Rotary International remained an all-male organization until 1987, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the club could not exclude women from membership. Since its formation in 1996, the Decatur Daybreak club founded YEA! Decatur, which celebrates and encourages children to explore the arts, supported the Harvard alternative Spring Break and participated in reading programs at Woodmeade Elementary.

As president of the Morgan County Bar, a position that up until two years ago automatically went to the most senior attorney, Maloney hopes to create a more community service-minded association. Projects in development include a Law Day and a pro bono committee to serve individuals who cannot afford legal representation. Maloney also aims to provide young lawyers with the same support she received.

“The challenge for all young professional people, a challenge that transcends gender, is to be true to your core principles. We need to encourage them to live out those principles and balance their career with their family and their faith. You need to stay true to whoever you are,” Maloney said. “You can reach for your goals from wherever you are, whoever you are.”

While the divide between men and women lawyers has shrunk from 40 years ago, a gap remains. According to the American Bar Association, females represent 33 percent of the nation’s attorneys and make 86 percent of what their male counterparts earn. Of Alabama’s 58 county bar associations, 12 are led by women.

“I have been out of law school for 38 years. It is much easier for women than when I came through,” said Roth, whose 166-member University of Alabama graduate class included 25 women. “Saying that, women still have to be the best prepared and the most professional in everything we do. Gay represents what we should aspire to.”


Information from: The Decatur Daily, https://www.decaturdaily.com/decaturdaily/index.shtml

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