From her days as a pioneering woman in law school through her tenure as first justice at Middlesex Probate and Family Court, Beverly W. Boorstein shrugged off the jokes and criticisms some aim at lawyers and judges. She saw the practice of law as more of a calling than a profession.
“Being a lawyer or being a rabbi were, to her, the same thing,” her daughter Michelle said. “Being in the law was holy work.”
That was especially the case when Mrs. Boorstein’s duties as a lawyer or judge involved society’s most vulnerable, children in particular.
“You’d have two unrepresented parents coming in and she was on guard to make sure the children’s rights were not adversely affected by something going on in that divorce action,” said Edward F. Donnelly Jr., who was Mrs. Boorstein’s clerk in the 1990s and is now first justice at Middlesex Probate and Family Court. “She had a definite set of values that she lived her life and practiced law by, and also judged by.”
Mrs. Boorstein, who ran a mediation practice after retiring as a judge several years ago, died of lung cancer April 24 in her Sharon home. She was 74 and previously lived in Newton for many years.
“Beverly was an excellent lawyer,” said Suzanne DelVecchio, a retired state Superior Court chief justice who formerly ran the law firm Boorstein & DelVecchio with Mrs. Boorstein.
“I don’t know anybody who believed in fairness or justice the way Beverly did,” DelVecchio said. “It really was the way she lived her life and thought about life. She was kind, she was fair, and she had a great sense of right and wrong.”
In the late 1980s, Mrs. Boorstein served on a panel, appointed by Governor Michael S. Dukakis, that examined the unmet legal needs of children. “Society as a whole has not been very sensitive to children’s needs, and the court system is no different,” she told the Globe in 1991. “Most lawyers and judges do not come to Family Court with the type of background they need to deal with children; they don’t understand what a child needs and how a child looks at the world.”
By way of example, she added that “children have a different sense of time than we do — a week or month or a year is an enormous amount of time to them.”
In her own life, Mrs. Boorstein seemed to find endless time to invest in her work, in political campaigns, and in her family.
“She was enormously giving and generous in general, but for her family it reached a whole other level — from the little things, like making French toast in her own special way on Sunday mornings, to ensuring that no birthday, graduation, or outstanding report card was overlooked,” her daughter Robin of Sharon said in a eulogy during a service last week.
Along with her work, Mrs. Boorstein served as treasurer for the campaigns of Evelyn Murphy, a Democrat who was formerly lieutenant governor of Massachusetts.
“Campaigns are full of egos. Beverly did not impose herself in any way. She really was a selfless contributor to everything I asked her to get involved with,” recalled Murphy, who also founded The WAGE Project. Mrs. Boorstein was a director for the organization, which works to end wage discrimination against working women.
“She was special,” Murphy said. “There’s no doubt about that.”
Born in Chicago, Beverly Weinger grew up in the suburb of Oak Park, Ill., the oldest of three siblings. Her father, Morris Weinger, worked with his family’s food market and later on the stock exchange. Her mother, the former Bess Meisel, was a homemaker.
Skipping a couple of grades, Mrs. Boorstein was 16 when she arrived at Brandeis University, from which she graduated in 1961. While there she met Sidney Boorstein, another student. In his eulogy, he said that “her worth and beauty will never die. Everything she did, she did with excellence, integrity, sincerity, and humility. She was a rare gem of a human being.”
They married in 1962 and Mrs. Boorstein graduated from Boston University School of Law two years later. “Bev was one of two women in her class of 400,” her husband noted at last week’s service.
In a legal community that wasn’t very welcoming to female lawyers in general and those who were mothers of young children in particular, Mrs. Boorstein initially represented indigent clients, including prostitutes. “She was honored to defend people she felt had gotten a raw deal in life,” her husband said.
In private practice, including with DelVecchio, Mrs. Boorstein’s cases included domestic, mental health, probate, estate planning, equity, elder care, and real estate. She served as a probate and family court judge from 1992 to 2007, and in addition to her courtroom duties she once was photographed by the Globe vacuuming her judge’s chambers at a time when the caseload was hefty and funding was slender for basics such as janitorial services.
Though her work was serious, Mrs. Boorstein also “was a lot of fun,” DelVecchio said. “She had a fabulous sense of humor, she saw the irony in everything.
And she was an inveterate shopper, said Michelle, a reporter at The Washington Post, “but usually for presents for other people. She was constantly on the lookout for presents. If she saw something interesting, she’d buy it and save it until she saw you. She loved to give gifts.”
In an e-mail, Mrs. Boorstein’s brother, Dr. Ronald Weinger of Needham, recalled that she “didn’t have an envious bone in her body. Amongst all of her great attributes this was one of her best. She sincerely rejoiced at other peoples’ successes. She was the hub of our family and held us together by example. She made all of us better human beings because she encouraged us to think about what is right rather than what is easy.”
In addition to her husband, two daughters, and brother, Mrs. Boorstein leaves a sister, Susan Weinger of Kalamazoo, Mich.; and three grandsons.
With her husband, Mrs. Boorstein “really had a partnership,” Michelle said. In their home, she recalled, the couple shared a large desk where they would do their work, sitting across from each other and talking through work and family matters.
As Mrs. Boorstein’s health failed, she insisted on hosting a 79th birthday party for her husband at the end of March — brunch for about 50 guests. “You have cushioned me, encouraged me, loved me, supported me, uplifted me, and believed in me, in every important aspect of my life,” she said at the party, reading from a letter she wrote to Sid.
“You have been a profoundly and deeply remarkable husband to me,” she added. “Even though I am very sick I wanted to have this birthday party for you, as a symbolic expression of my profound gratitude and undying love for you, throughout my adult life, and until the end of my life.”Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.