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Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Justice Christine Durham leaves the Utah Supreme Courtroom after her retirement celebration at the Scott M. Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah Supreme Court Justice Christine Durham heads into retirement this week, colleagues say she leaves behind a legacy as an undisputed pioneer in the state.

After joining the Utah State Bar at a time when women lawyers were still viewed with skepticism, Durham went on to become the state's first female district court judge, Supreme Court justice and chief justice. She retires Wednesday.

Durham, 72, smiled widely as she greeted well-wishers at a reception in her honor Monday evening, including her colleagues in the Utah Supreme Court, other district and federal court judges, and courthouse staff. Following her remarks in the room where she led the state Supreme Court for a decade, Durham was met by a rousing standing ovation.

As she thanked a long list of colleagues and supporters, Durham shared her committment and enthusiasm for the career that she loved.

"If the state of Utah did not pay me to do the job that I have been able to do, I would have had to find a way to pay them to let me do it," she said with smile.

Recounting Durham's trailblazing 40-year career, and especially the way she inspired other women, her successor, Utah Supreme Court Chief Justice Matthew Durrant, praised her as an example to all who know her.

"I believe that Christine Durham has done more for Utah's judiciary branch than any person, female or male, in its history," Durrant praised.

He also recounted Durham's efforts to continuously educate and improve the judiciary, including founding the Leadership Institute in Judicial Education. In their 17 years together on the bench, Durrant said Durham became his role model as a relentlessly fair jurist.

"She checks off every box on the list of things that a judge should be," he said. "She is a person of talent, intellect and impeccable integrity. She has this abiding confidence that never strays into arrogance. She is deeply principled, is strong in her views and in her advocacy, and is always not only willing but eager to hear an opposing view."

Durham was joined Monday by her husband, George, and three of their five children.

George Durham praised his wife as courageous, confident and compassionate.

During the first few weeks of their courtship, George Durham said he and the 18-year-old woman who would later become his wife revealed that because of her deep concerns about societal prejudice, she dreamed of becoming a lawyer and maybe a judge.

"I believed her," he recalled.

As their family grew, the couple eventually came to Utah, where Christine Durham pursued her law career and George Durham became a doctor.

Through their life together, George Durham praised his wife as a devoted companion, mother and grandmother, as together they established one of several family mottos: We would rather flunk out of our careers than flunk out of our marriage or family.