2017 Celebration Award Winner
Supreme Court Judge Mary Rhodes Russell grew up on a dairy farm in Ralls County, Missouri
and graduated as the valedictorian of her high school class. She received a B.A. and B.S. degree
in communications and print media from Truman State University in 1980 and earned her law
degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1983.
Russell attended law school at a time when law was still considered a non-traditional field for
women. She gives credit to the women who blazed the trail and opened the doors that made it
acceptable for women to be in the courtroom. She continues to be a champion for defenseless
and voiceless people and feels that as women, we are called to support each other, learn from
each other and do what we can to improve the lives of others.
After law school, Russell clerked for Supreme Court Judge George Gunn, spent a decade in
private practice in Hannibal, and served nine years on the Missouri Court of Appeals for the
Eastern District where she served as Chief Judge from 1999-2000. In 2004 she was appointed to
the Missouri Supreme Court and was elected by her colleagues to serve as Chief Justice from
Russell’s dedication to improving the lives of others and upholding the highest ideals of the legal
profession have been recognized in the numerous awards and honors she has received including
the Carey Mae Carroll Achievement Award from the Woman’s Law Association at the
University of Missouri in 2017; the Theodore McMillian Judicial Excellence Award from The
Missouri Bar in 2016; the Missouri Lawyers’ Media 2014 Woman of the Year; and the Legal
Services of Eastern Missouri’s Equal Justice Award for pro bono service to the public in 1994.
In one of her more interesting roles, Russell spent some time as an “undercover judge.” Wearing
capris and tennis shoes she anonymously walked the halls of courthouses throughout the state
posing as a survey taker and chatting with litigants, witnesses and jurors about how the courts
could do a better job. By listening to people talk about their experiences, Russell was able to
help implement several improvements to the judicial system.
Russell acknowledges that there are more doors open to women today than ever before; but,
notes that despite these areas of progress there remain more challenges to be addressed including
the gender pay gap and the lack of leadership and management roles for women in business.
Because she has been given much, Russell feels a strong responsibility to help others, especially
women who desire to walk her professional path. She explains her willingness to mentor other
women this way, “I want to help provide these women with an ear and a voice from a woman
whose has walked in the heels that they want to walk in some day.”
When not on the bench or serving the community, Russell is an avid Cardinals baseball fan. She
jokes that she may seek a job as an usher at Busch Stadium in retirement.