First Mississippi Supreme Court justice, Lenore Prather, dead at 88

Published 9:17 pm Monday, April 13, 2020

The first woman to serve as a Mississippi Supreme Court justice has died at the age of 88.

Retired Justice Lenore Loving Prather died Saturday at her home in Columbus, according to a news release issued by the court Monday.

Prather was appointed to the nine-member court in 1982 by then-Gov. William Winter. She was also the first woman to serve as chief justice, holding that role from January 1998 until her retirement in January 2001.

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“She served with class, character, scholarship and impeccable integrity,” one of her Supreme Court colleagues, Bill Waller Jr., said in the news release.

Prather was interim president of Mississippi University for Women from July 2001 to June 2002. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the school in 1953, when it was still called Mississippi State College for Women. She was one of only three women in law school at the University of Mississippi when she started studying there in 1953. She completed her law degree in 1955.

Prather became a city judge in her hometown of West Point in 1965. She held that post until September 1972, when then-Gov. John Bell Williams appointed her as a chancery judge for Chickasaw, Clay, Lowndes, Noxubee, Oktibbeha and Webster counties.

She was the first woman to serve as a chancery judge. Chancellors’ duties include hearing land disputes, divorces, child custody cases.

As a Supreme Court justice, Prather wrote a decision in a case that specified factors to determine a child’s best interests in a custody dispute between parents. She wrote a decision in another case that set guidelines for equitable distribution of marital assets in divorce, which included giving women credit for non-financial contributions to the family.

Waller retired as chief justice in early 2019. He said in the news release Monday that he considered Prather a mentor.

He said she played an important part in the design and funding of the current Gartin Justice Building in Jackson, which houses the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals.

Mississippi University for Women awarded Prather its Medal of Excellence in 1990 and the MUW Alumni Achievement Award in 1993. The University of Mississippi inducted her into its Hall of Fame in 1986.

The University of Mississippi School of Law named her alumna of the year in 1995, and inducted her into its Law Alumni Hall of Fame in 2012. Then-Gov. Haley Barbour awarded Prather the Mississippi Medal of Service in 2009.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete Monday.