Spotlight on our very own “Home-grown Chicago girl”: An interview with the Honorable Patrice Ball-Reed
Mary: It is a privilege and a great pleasure to interview you, the Honorable Patrice Ball-Reed, whom I’ve known for about five years. I was first introduced to you by our mutual friend, Sandra Crawford, just after the two of you returned from your trip to Springfield to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, and just before I was appointed to this committee.
You have had one incredible year! Your appointment to the bench and your tenure as President of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois these past 12 months, plus all of your involvement in the ISBA and other organizations, has made this a most busy time. Where do I start?
I’m going to begin with a hugely daunting question—How did you get to 2010? Let’s go back to your roots.
Are you a homegrown Chicago girl or are you a transplant? Where did you grow up?
Patrice: I am a homegrown Chicago girl. I grew up in the Lawndale neighborhood on the West side of Chicago. My parents are divorced and both retired. My mother lives with me. My brother is a retired Chicago policeman. He is younger than I am but he had the fortitude to serve as a policeman for 20 years. He is in Chicago as well.
Mary: What schools did you attend, up to and through law school?
Patrice: I went to Anton Dvorak and Corkery Grammar Schools on the West side. I attended Roger C. Sullivan High School up on the Northside. My high school was in Rogers Park, and from Lawndale it was two “L” trains and a bus ride every day to and from school. I went to Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and majored in Economics. I am on the Board of Trustees and Vice President of Scholarships to Trinity College for Illinois Residents. I am a graduate of The John Marshall Law School here in Chicago and am past president of the JMLS Alumni Association.
Mary: Who were the biggest influences on your early life, your role models and heroes?
Patrice: The women in my family. My paternal great-grandmother, paternal grandmother, my mother and my aunts (my father’s sisters). All of them worked and expected me to succeed in life.
Mary: Whom do you consider the most inspirational woman in your life and why?
Patrice: My mother. She was a grammar school crossing guard. She didn’t go to college but she wanted that for me. She worked every day whether rain or shine. Her work ethic and continued support in everything that I did were the inspiration for me. I went to Hartford, Connecticut alone without ever having stepped foot outside of Illinois on my own. I was 17 when I left for school and had no idea how to take care of myself. I caught a plane with my trunk. I arrived in Hartford and found a cab to campus. I registered for classes and housing without my parents. Before I left for college, I didn’t have any responsibility but going to school. Once I left for college, I learned how to be responsible for myself.
Mary: So, when did you decide to become an attorney? Was there a specific event or individual who made an impact on you to reach that decision?
Patrice: When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, there was rioting in my neighborhood. At one point during the rioting, there was an armored truck at the end of my block. When I witnessed all the violence and destruction, I decided to become a lawyer. In my mind, I decided that lawyers could protect the people who were being harmed and make changes in the law so that people would not feel that rioting was the way to solve any problems.
Mary: Tell me about your first job out of law school and how you got hired. Any tips for our new law school graduates?
Patrice: I worked as a law clerk at a small firm. After I passed the bar, I became an associate there. I honestly don’t know how I got hired. It was a minority-owned firm and I think the partner who interviewed me just took pity on the poor, black child from the West side. I had no mentors or lawyers who could tell me the way to go. When I went to look for a position, we didn’t have access to the information that students have at this time.
New law school graduates have access to the Internet for information, mentors for advice, and seminars for training. I would hope that they take full advantage of everything. In addition, I would suggest that they do the following: 1. Maintain a file of all their awards, writing samples, and course work. (It is needed for the bar application and for any job interviews.); 2. Maintain a stellar reputation. (It is the one thing that no one can take from you).; 3. Maintain contact information for networking. (It may be one of those people who can recommend you for a job, give you business, or advise you about career plans.); and 4. Maintain your social bonds. (It is true that all work and no play makes Jack or Jill a dull person).
Mary: Since that first position, how has your career path brought you to this venerable appointment to the bench?
Patrice: It wasn’t a straight shot. I have been in private practice and in public service. I left the small firm after four years to become a Cook County Assistant State’s Attorney. I was there for fourteen years and became a deputy supervisor in the child support and real estate property tax divisions. I became deputy attorney general for child support when Attorney General Lisa Madigan won her first election. I ran county-wide for judge 10 years before I was appointed as an Associate judge. I lost the race and continued to pursue my goal to become a judge until it happened in 2008. I guess that it just wasn’t my time until I turned 50 years old.
Mary: Madame President of the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois, tell us about this past year. What have you done this year and what have been some of the joys and pleasures of the role of President?
Patrice: This year went very quickly. My theme was “WBAI 95 years of Excellence: Women Connecting Women to Opportunities.” I wanted this year to be about fun, exposure for the members, branding the WBAI, diversity, and business development. We had a few fun events such as a book signing with Laura Caldwell, a spa outing, and a cocktail reception at the Crimson Lounge. We must learn to find the time to relax because life is too short and we deserve to reward ourselves for all the hard work that we do.
Several of our activities made it to the cover of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, which gives exposure to our members and highlights our organization. We co-sponsored many events with both legal and non-legal organizations, which is a definite way to network and develop business contacts. Each of our major events: the annual dinner, golf outing, joint professional reception, Rise Up and Reach Back luncheon, and judges’ night were well-attended. Our web site has been revamped and has been combined with branding our organizational color and script of WBAI call letters a, “Woman’s Best Advocate in Illinois.”
As the second African American president of the organization, it has been important to me that we have activities that show and promote diversity in our organization. I added a diversity committee to our list of committees. I think this will help us internally and externally. The first event was an open forum that we presented and co-sponsored with several other organizations. The event was well attended by both men and women.
That committee should continue to have events promoting the discussion of diversity. We have also given back to the community, which is very important for all us to do. It has been my personal privilege to attend numerous programs on behalf of the organization this year. This year was also interesting and important to me on two occasions. The first was the event that the WBAI co-sponsored with IJC, BWLA and CCBA with the South African Consulate. The ambassador, director of the South African Welfare for Women and Children Committee, President of the Illinois Judicial Council, President of the Cook County Bar Association, President of the Black Women Lawyers Association of Greater Chicago, and I are all Black women. The second is that this year five major organizations are chaired by women of color. Those organizations are BWLA, CBA, CCBA, IJC and WBAI. Those two instances were really significant in February and March because we made Black history and Women’s history. I have been honored and thankful for the opportunity to serve as President.
Mary: Tell us about your own family life. What do you and your family enjoy doing in your leisure time, if you have any?
Patrice: I make time for leisure because it is important to me and my family. I try to have a date with my husband once a week. My husband and I try to take the children and my grandson to the movies and dinner at least twice a month. I enjoy spas, which I get to once a quarter. I also read. I attend many meetings but they don’t all meet at the same time.
Mary: Patrice Ball-Reed, as the song goes, ”My future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.” What does 2010 and beyond hold for you? Your dreams and goals?
Patrice: Life is good. I keep trying to practice random acts of kindness. I try to give people their flowers while they are living and telling that I love them. I am over 50 and I am enjoying the benefits and freedoms that come with being among the seasoned and blessed women. My dreams and goals are evolving. I have accomplished many of my goals. The dreams of world peace have not yet come to fruition, but I keep dreaming. I do want health, happiness and abundance for my family. I am looking forward to the next great thing.
Mary: Thank you so much for taking time from what must be an overwhelmingly demanding schedule. This has been a delight for me. See you in St. Louis! ■