The balance of life, work, family and faith can be challenging for anyone. Add in institutional and cultural prejudices against a career choice and the pressure might seem insurmountable to many.
It takes a special type of confidence and ability to overcome those obstacles and succeed. Utah’s long-serving state Supreme Court justice, Christine Durham, has those qualities in spades. Durham, who recently retired, was a trailblazer. Her path never before had been trod, but those who come after her will more easily walk the path in her footsteps.
Durham became an attorney at a time when that was viewed primarily as a man’s profession. Women, especially married women, were expected to point their lives in different directions. She faced hostility from some at Duke University for her career choice because some men saw her as taking a job from a man who might need it to support a family.
She persevered and, after moving to Utah with her pediatrician husband, eventually became the state’s first female district court judge. Then, four years later, Gov. Scott M. Matheson nominated her for the Utah Supreme Court. Eventually, she became its chief justice.
All along, Durham and her husband also were devoted parents to five children, providing for their needs and attending piano recitals and parent-teacher conferences like any other parents. They were active in their church. Durham has cited faith as one of the anchors that helped her maintain a balance.
It’s tempting to say Durham showed women a clear path to success. But a more realistic view is to say she showed women they can accomplish much through hard work, a thick skin and dogged determination. Much has changed in the culture since Durham studied law in the '60s. But that change can be attributed in large part to people such as herself, who would not be stopped from accomplishing great things.
Yet much work remains to be done. As Durham has noted, laws may make discriminations of various kinds illegal, but vestiges of those behaviors can survive for generations. “We still see the residue, to some extent, of the exclusion and restrictions that people faced because of their gender or their race, in particular,” she told the Deseret News.
Durham was a pioneer. More importantly, however, she was a dedicated wife, mother, jurist and a devoted, competent and serious-minded Supreme Court justice who served for 35 years. Colleagues describe her calm demeanor and her devotion to considering all sides in an argument.
She has left a legacy that will last in Utah for generations.