BYC Spotlight – Mary Ann Connell

Mary Ann Connell (JD 1977; LL.M. 1991)

Who has had a tremendous impact on your career and how did this person or these persons help you?

My father was a lawyer in Louisville, Mississippi. Since I was eight years old, I loved to go to his office and to the courtroom to watch him try cases. He was Louisville’s “Atticus Finch”, always helping the poor and downtrodden. I knew from that early age that I wanted to be a lawyer, but that was not likely to happen because I was born in 1937 in an era when law was considered mainly to be “for men only.”

My father and our local school superintendent, Elizie Heinze, encouraged me to be involved and interested in politics, government, and law and to believe that I could do anything I wanted to do if I were willing to work at it. Mr. Heinze said to me when I asked his advice about whether it would be acceptable for me, a girl, to run for president of the Louisville High School student body against two boys: “Mary Ann, don’t you ever let the fact that you are a girl keep you from following your dreams. You can do anything you want to do if you are willing to work at it, so do not ever let your gender be an excuse for not trying.”

I graduated from law school in 1977 and immediately began to work with Grady Tollison and Robert Khayat in a general practice on the Square in Oxford. Grady was (and still is) an outstanding litigator and gave me wide latitude and numerous opportunities to participate in trials with him, to question witnesses, prepare jury instructions, and handle matters on my own in the courtroom. Robert was (and still is) a great teacher. He taught me how to incorporate a business, search titles, draft contracts and wills, and work in a caring, conscientious way with clients. During those early days of law practice, I was also fortunate to be associated with Jack Dunbar and Don Fruge and learn from both of them the importance of meticulous preparation and attention to detail.

In 1982, I became the attorney for the University of Mississippi. During those early days in that role, I frequently called upon members of our law faculty for assistance. They always generously gave me their time and expertise. I am especially indebted in this regard to Professors George Cochran, Guff Abbot, Bob Weems, and Bill Champion.

Cal Mayo joined me as associate university attorney in 1996 and took over primary responsibility for athletics and litigation. Cal was an outstanding trial attorney. He also worked well with all campus constituents. Lee Tyner joined us in 1998 and was equally capable and well-suited for university legal work. I have been fortunate to have had such fine mentors throughout my legal career.

What unexpected turns has your career taken?

In 1982, I was happily ensconced on the Square with Grady, Robert, Jack, and other fine lawyers, when my husband Bill was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the liver. At that same time, Chancellor Fortune asked me to take the position of university attorney, which was a dream come true for me. I loved to teach, I loved the University of Mississippi, and I loved the thought of spending my life on a college campus. That job was the perfect one for me, and I loved every day of it.

What are the characteristics that you believe are important to be successful and why?

Be prepared and collegial.

What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop in your career?

I stay involved on the national and state level with education issues by attending and presenting at conferences, especially the National Association of College and University Attorneys. I also teach every semester, which I love and which keeps me current on issues in law and education.

Why is supporting the mission of the Bessie Young Council important to you?

I was a non-traditional law student, beginning my law school career when I was 36 with four young children. I did not have time to make as many law school friends as the traditional students did and missed learning opportunities those friendships would have provided. I would like to be a person whom younger, but non-traditional law students and lawyers, can come to when they need to talk. I am a good listener and think that my years of teaching and practicing law equip me to be of service to those struggling to juggle all the worlds an older law student, especially one working or with children, is facing. I try to provide this mentoring to my students, but would also like to reach out to others when they need or want a listening ear or guidance.

The non-traditional law student faces many financial and other challenges that are not covered by parents, scholarships, or clerkships. A source of funds upon which a student in need could call for extra help when child care is needed or when those many unexpected financial obligations come along (need new tires, refrigerator breaks down) would be a wonderful way to help those who face unexpected obstacles in a world already filled with enough challenges.

What are your strongest memories from law school?

I loved every day of law school. My professors were outstanding and I always felt that I was learning what I needed to be able to practice law. Working throughout law school for Grady Tollison and Robert Khayat also gave me a practical view of what the practice of law would be about and helped me focus with greater attention on my classes. The long estate plans, wills and trusts Don Fruge required us to prepare still serve me well in drafting documents such as these. His courses were among the most useful classes I took in law school.

Where was your favorite place to study while in law school?

My favorite place to study was my back yard. My husband Bill was wonderful about taking the children on trips with him during exam time so that I could have some time alone to study. I also recorded outlines of all my classes and played them while driving or sitting in long lines waiting for children to get out of school or piano class.

The University of Mississippi law school has been good to me. Being a part of the Bessie Young Council is a way I can contribute to offering financial support to non-traditional students and help create mentoring relationships for them.