Portrait unveiling celebrates Justice Kay Cobb as trailblazer

September 10, 2018

Colleagues and friends celebrated former Justice Kay Cobb’s trail-blazing impact on women in the legal profession as they gathered Sept. 6, 2018, to hang her portrait at the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Mississippi Bar President Patricia Bennett, Dean of the Mississippi College School of Law, said, “Justice Cobb has been a trailblazer for women in the profession.”

“Justice Cobb, you have inspired and encouraged women, whether you intended to or not. You have been a tutor, a mentor and a role model,” Bennett said. Her example and work “influenced other women to pursue a legal career, opened doors for women lawyers in a variety of job settings that historically were closed to them and advanced opportunities for women within our legal profession.”

Justice Kay Cobb Portait unveiling

Presiding Justice Michael Randolph noted the presence at the ceremony of high-profile women lawyers including former Justice Ann Lamar, Aleita Sullivan, former Mississippi Bar President Joy Phillips, former Court of Appeals Judge Mary Libby Payne and Chancellor Cynthia Brewer. “I think I’m in the presence of great people. These are the woman that changed the face of our profession.”

Judge Payne, the first woman elected to the Mississippi Court of Appeals, said she was disappointed that she didn’t get to serve with Cobb, whom Gov. Kirk Fordice was expected to appoint to a vacancy on the Court of Appeals. “Unexpectedly, Jim Roberts resigned from the Supreme Court the week of deadline day to qualify to run for the position of Governor, so immediately the Governor appointed Kay Cobb to fill that position on the Supreme Court,” Judge Payne said. Gov. Fordice appointed Justice Cobb to the Supreme Court on April 1, 1999.

Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. said that at the Supreme Court, Justice Cobb was known as a hard worker. She was chair of the human resources and computer committees, “but she will forever be best know as the chairperson of jots and tittles,” he said, noting that she was a stickler for following every grammar rule.

Justice Kay Cobb Portait unveiling

She authored 211 majority opinions during her eight years on the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Waller said. Her best known case is probably the Feb. 19, 2004, decision she authored in Janssen Pharmaceutica v. Armond, an interlocutory appeal in a pharmaceutical injury lawsuit that involved 56 patients from seven counties suing 42 physicians. Only one plaintiff and none of the physicians lived in Jones County, where the lawsuit was filed. The decision reformed joinder and venue in civil litigation.

After the accolades, Justice Cobb said, “I’m almost speechless. I’m humbled. God has given me a lot of help through the years. I didn’t do it alone.” She thanked all those who touched her career and her life. “I want to say thank you... for helping me make a happy life, a productive life, and I hope that I can pass it along to my family.”

Her strongest supporter throughout her career has been her husband, Larry Cobb. “He was very important in making it possible for me to be here today, and I love him dearly.”

Justice Cobb retired May 1, 2007. She and her husband now live in Lenoir City, Tenn. They have five grandchildren, two step-grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, most of whom live in Tennessee.

She was surrounded by family at the portrait unveiling. She noted that her oldest grandchild, Robert DeBusk, practices law in Chattanooga. She recalled how he followed her as a child to events where she spoke, shaking hands alongside her. “I take pride in being the one who steered him into law.”

She thanked artist Robbie Boyd of Pontotoc, who painted the portrait. Boyd’s portrait of former Gov. Bill Allain was hung in the Hall of Governors at the Capitol in January. Boyd paints landscapes, portraits, still lifes and animals.

Boyd painted the portrait from a photograph. When they met for the first time, Larry Cobb remarked that they looked enough alike to be sisters.

“I have grown to love her,” Boyd said. “The more I was around her, the more I knew she is a special lady."