Former Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court Kay McFarland died on the 18th of August 2015 at the age of 80 after a brief illness.
Born on the 20th of July 1935 to parents Kenneth and Margaret McFarland, she was a judge for nearly 35 years and the first female elected to a judgeship in Kansas.
The family moved to Topeka when Kenneth McFarland became superintendent of Topeka Unified School District 501, and built a home on land that is the current site of west Topeka’s McFarland Farm development.
Kenneth McFarland also was an educational consultant and a motivational speaker for Reader’s Digest and General Motors.
She was admitted to the bar in 1964, and was elected judge of the probate and juvenile courts of Shawnee County in 1971.
In January 1973, she became judge of the newly created Fifth Division of the District Court in Topeka, thereby becoming the first woman to be a district judge in the history of Kansas.
Her election to this high office came after her victories over opponents in both the primary and general elections.
On September 19, 1977, she was appointed by the governor to be a justice of the Kansas Supreme Court and was the first woman to hold that office.
She became the state’s ninth chief justice upon the retirement of Richard Holmes on September 1, 1995, and held that position until she retired in January 2009. Her 31-year tenure on the high court is among the longest on record.
McFarland graduated from law school and entered the private practice of law in 1964.
She defeated an incumbent in 1970 to become the first woman elected to a judgeship in Shawnee County, taking office the following January as judge of the probate and juvenile courts.
She then became the first woman elected as a Shawnee County District Court judge in 1972, taking office the following January.
McFarland in 2006 received the first Kay McFarland Award from the Women Attorneys of Topeka, which is given annually to a woman who has achieved professional excellence in her field, influenced women to pursue legal careers, opened doors for women lawyers in a variety of job settings that were historically closed to women and advanced opportunities for women within a practice area or segment of the profession.
McFarland also was an animal lover, an expert seamstress and quilter.
She traveled the world, including going on three African safaris with former Topeka Zoo director Gary Clarke, her obituary said.
Capital-Journal archives indicate McFarland’s tenure on the Supreme Court was exceeded by only three other justices: William A. Johnston, who served from 1884 to 1935; Rousseau A. Burch, 1902 to 1937; and William V. Harvey, 1923 to 1956.
McFarland served on the court until February 2009, retiring as the chief justice. Kay traveled the world.
Her father’s work as an educational consultant and motivational speaker for the Reader’s Digest and General Motors provided early opportunities for domestic and foreign travel.
Her love of travel continued throughout her life, including three African safaris with former Topeka zoo director, Gary Clarke.
She was preceded in death by her parents and a brother, James Warren McFarland. A former sister-in-law, Pat Hess, survives.
She is remembered by many members of her court family throughout the state.