- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kay McFarland, the first female chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court, died Tuesday. She was 80.

McFarland died Tuesday morning at home after an illness, according to Leina Cox, administrative assistant at Penwell Gabel funeral home in Topeka.

McFarland was appointed to the state Supreme Court in September 1977 by Gov. Robert Bennett, becoming the first woman appointed to the high court. In September 1995 she became the court’s first woman chief justice, a position she held until retiring in 2009.

Her 31-year tenure on the high court is among the longest on record.

Howard Schwartz, the state’s judicial administrator from 1973 to 2012, told The Topeka Capital-Journal (https://bit.ly/1E1rTiv ) that McFarland forged new ground for women in a world that had been traditionally closed to them.

“I was always astounded by the number of women who would come up to her and say, “You know, I’m an attorney because of you,’ or ‘I’m a judge because of you,’” he said.

He said McFarland was a strong advocate that the court follow time standards to keep cases from “dragging on” too long and helped ensure the justice system didn’t break the “average citizen” financially.

Kansas Supreme Court Justice Marla Luckert, a member of the high court since 2003, said she followed in McFarland’s footsteps and greatly appreciated the way she broke gender barriers. She also said McFarland was a great storyteller.

“She had the ability to take an everyday experience and turn it into a story that had humor and just brought the people and the circumstances to life,” Luckert said.

McFarland was born July 20, 1935, in Coffeyville. She graduated in 1957 from Washburn University with dual majors in English and history/political science, according to obituary information provided by the funeral home. She graduated from Washburn’s law school, and became the first woman elected as a Shawnee County District Court judge in 1972.

McFarland was preceded in death by her parents and her brother, James Warren McFarland. A former sister-in-law, Pat Hess, survives, her obituary said.

Services are scheduled for Saturday at Penwell-Gabel Southwest Chapel in Topeka, with burial to follow at Mount Hope Cemetery.

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