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Mary Beatty Muse, 94; advocate for women

Mary Betty Muse managed to raise several children while attending law school.
Mary Betty Muse managed to raise several children while attending law school.

At an age when many make plans to retire or already have done so, Mary Beatty Muse began yet another new chapter in her very full life, this time as a justice in the Suffolk County Probate and Family Court.

Rather than sit back and savor the accomplishment of being one of few women to serve as a Massachusetts judge in the early 1980s, she invested time advocating for the advancement of other women in the legal profession — sometimes offering individual encouragement, other times gathering groups to meet.

“My mother would say, ‘We’re here to strategize to get women on the bench,’ ” said her son Chris of Boston, a Superior Court judge. To those who found the prospect of trying to break the judiciary’s gender line daunting, “she said: ‘There are no barriers, just obstacles. And obstacles are opportunities.’ ”

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Mrs. Muse, a mentor whose own life and career inspired women in Greater Boston who worked as lawyers or wanted to be judges, died Feb. 20 in Brigham and Women’s Hospital of complications of a heart attack. She was 94 and lived in Brookline.

“Her accomplishment is that she did so much and so well,” said Sister Janet Eisner, president of Emmanuel College, Mrs. Muse’s alma mater. “She was an amazing woman.”

By the time Mrs. Muse graduated from Boston College Law School in 1950, she had four children, three of whom were born during her years as one of three women in her class. “It was impossible to even open a book while the children were awake. I could only study when they went to sleep at night,” she told the Globe that June, just before graduating. “Much of the time I could rock one of the children to sleep and be poring over a heavy legal tome at the same time.”

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Seven more children followed while she began practicing law and helping to run a nursing home she and her husband had purchased. She was 58 when Governor Edward J. King appointed her to the Judicial Nominating Commission, and 62 when he nominated her in 1982 to fill a Probate and Family Court opening. She was a justice until the mandatory retirement age of 70.

“There was never anything that was too much for her,” Eisner said. “She did a lot with her life, but I think it’s more how she did it that struck everyone.”

Presiding with an even-tempered dignity in a court where tempers flare and emotions fray, Mrs. Muse sometimes began divorce proceedings by telling a couple, “Just remember, at one point you loved each other,” said one of her daughters, Julie Stanley of Hingham.

Affection was something Mrs. Muse had in abundance, her family and friends said. Reaching beyond the challenge of keeping straight the names of 11 children, 36 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren, Mrs. Muse “first and foremost was a mom to all of us,” her daughter said. “I have three children and I don’t know how she did it, but every one of us felt like we were the only one in her eyes when we needed her.”

Stanley followed her mother into the field of law, as did six of the other children and four grandchildren. Two of Mrs. Muse’s other children are doctors and four grandchildren are pursuing medicine. “You talk about a dynasty, here it is,” Eisner said. “It’s not just in the volume. It’s the depth of the family.”

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The second of four children, Mary Beatty was born in Boston in 1920. Her father, John, was a builder. Her mother, Dr. Mary Moore Beatty, was the first woman to serve as a school physician in Boston and was the first woman appointed as a trustee at Boston City Hospital.

Like her mother, Mrs. Muse graduated from Boston Girls’ Latin. She studied biology and chemistry at Emmanuel College, graduating in 1941 and enlisting in the Navy WAVES.

Before leaving for basic training, she fell in love with Robert Muse, who encountered her one day when he was taking a summer session to make up for failing a college Latin course. “He saw this beautiful woman and asked her out to a date and never dated anyone else again,” her son Chris said.

Mr. Muse liked to tell the story of securing a few days’ leave from his duty as a Marine fighter pilot and arranging to meet her back home to marry before he shipped out to Okinawa during World War II. Armed with a case of Scotch, he gave a bottle to each military pilot who found passenger room for Mr. Muse as he wound his way back from the West Coast, flight by flight.

“They deeply loved each other,” Eisner said. “They were perfect partners and they were fun together. You always wanted to be with them.”

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A trial attorney in Boston for many years, Mr. Muse died in November 2012. Mrs. Muse’s son Peter, who also was a lawyer, died two weeks later.

In 2003, Boston College Law School presented Mrs. Muse with a lifetime achievement award, which Bill Frist, then a US senator, praised in a Congressional Record entry that highlighted her many professional accomplishments and awards. She had served on the board of Emmanuel College, which awarded her an honorary degree in 1983. She also was a leader in other legal organizations, among them the Massachusetts Association of Women Lawyers, one of the many avenues she traveled to help women advance in the profession.

Margaret H. Marshall said that when she was appointed to the state Supreme Judicial Court, Mrs. Muse “reached out to ask how I was doing.”

“She was so generous and was so wise with her advice,” said Marshall, who retired in 2010 as chief justice of the SJC. “She came to so many events and was always so encouraging of women lawyers.”

Years ago, Geraldine S. Hines, now an SJC associate justice, appeared one day in Probate Court when Mrs. Muse was presiding. “I didn’t know her at all. I just happened to have a divorce case before her that was pretty hotly contested,” Hines recalled.

“She called me up to the bench, and said ‘Oh, Miss Hines, have you ever considered being a judge?’ And the thought had never occurred to me,” Hines said. “I don’t even know what I said to her, but I just remember feeling that for once across the bench was somebody who appreciated the work I was trying to do.”

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Like many other women Mrs. Muse encouraged, Hines felt it was extraordinary “to have someone of her stature validate me in that way, even though I wasn’t planning to go out the next day and apply for a judgeship. It made me feel like, ‘Yes, I belong here. I belong in the profession.’”

In addition to her son Chris, daughter Julie, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Mrs. Muse leaves eight other children, Michael of Wellesley, Robert of Washington, D.C., Mary of El Dorado Hills, Calif., Stephen of Paris, John of Milton, Daniel of Canton, James of Mattapoisett, and Patricia of Boston; and a sister, Patricia Delaney of Westwood.

Mrs. Muse’s funeral Mass was said Saturday in St. Ignatius Church in Chestnut Hill, which was a homecoming in a spiritual and literal sense, her children said. Her childhood house had been on the site of where the church now sits, Chris said, and it was moved before becoming the church’s rectory. And Mrs. Muse’s “tremendous faith in God was so important to her,” Julie said.

Though Mrs. Muse spent years “instilling the confidence in women to realize what they had to contribute,” Eisner said, “a lot of this is rooted in her deep faith in God. It was her faith, her sense of what was just. Her own integrity was right there.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard
@globe.com
.