A transport pilot in World War II, she was the only woman in her UNM law school class when she graduated at age 40. After serving on the state Court of Appeals and as a probate judge, she became the first female New Mexico Supreme Court justice in 1984.
Originally from Michigan, Mary Coon was working for a prosecuting attorney in Escanaba in the upper peninsula of Michigan when the government offered free training for pilots. She joined the Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilots (WASPS) just before her 21st birthday and began her professional life serving in World War II as a United States Army Air Corp pilot flying transport planes. After the war, she flew for a rancher in Texas and then used her GI Bill benefits to attend college and law school. She was forty years old when she became a lawyer.
The only woman in her class at the University of New Mexico’s Law School, she was admitted to the New Mexico Bar in 1962. Nine years later she became the first female district judge in New Mexico. She went on to serve as a probate judge and as a judge for the New Mexico Court of Appeals (1978-1984) where she became its first female chief justice. In 1984, she was appointed to the New Mexico Supreme Court and became the first female justice to serve the state.
Devoted to service her whole life, she once told a reporter that “a country worth living in is a country to which you have an obligation to offer your services when those services are needed. That’s an obligation of every citizen, not just the men.”
A true trailblazer in New Mexico’s legal history, she received numerous awards throughout her career and served as a mentor to many young men and women in the law. In 1997, Walters received the Henrietta Pettijohn Award from New Mexico Women’s Bar Association for “advancing the causes of women in the legal profession.” She was the first president of the New Mexico Women’s Political Caucus, vice president of the 1969 New Mexico Constitutional Convention, and in 1986 was one of the first five inductees into the New Mexico Women’s Hall of Fame.
Samora, Vangie. Mujeres Valerosas. Archives for Book Project, Hispanic Women’s Council, 2006.
Hope, Judith Richards. Pinstripes and Pearls: The Women of the Harvard Law Class of ‘64 Who Forged an Old-Girl Network and Paved the Way for Future Generations. New York: Scribner Book Company, 2008, p.p. 12-17.
The President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Harvard Journal of Law and Gender. Vol. 28, Spring 2005.
Sage Monthly Magazine for Women, January, 2005.
“First Female Chief Justice Shaped Lives.” Albuquerque Journal, September 1, 2007.
“With Love, From the State Bar of New Mexico. A Tribute to Former Chief
Justice Pamela B. Minzner.” September, 2007.