Journal Issue Date: Nov/Dec 2020
Journal Name: Vol. 56 No. 9
On a beautiful day in 2014, more than a thousand people tried to enter the Bijou Theatre in downtown Knoxville. The seating capacity of the iconic theater is 750, and so after more than 800 people packed the orchestra floor, the boxes, the balconies and the aisles, hundreds more had to be turned away. The overflow crowd did not gather for a concert. They did not fill the theater for a play or movie. They came for a celebration.
© Ruth White - USA TODAY NETWORK
The occasion was the investiture of Pamela Reeves as a judge in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee. And make no mistake. It was a celebration.
Pam Reeves was being sworn in as the first female federal judge in the Eastern District. But it wasn’t the first celebration of a first for her. Pam had been coming in first for years.
Some 16 years earlier she had been sworn in as the 119th president of the Tennessee Bar Association. Her 118 predecessors had all been men. She was the first of her gender to lead the auspicious statewide legal organization.
And it would not be the last time she would be installed as a “first.” In 2019, she would become the first female chief judge of the Eastern District. One of the amazing things about the gathering at the Bijou Theater on that memorable “first” day was how many of the more than 800 in attendance knew Pam Reeves personally and regarded her as a dear friend or mentor.
Some of the folks there that day had known her since she was a girl growing up in the mountains of southwest Virginia. They remembered her as a member of 4-H, and how she learned and lived by the 4-H pledge, dedicating her head to clear thinking, her heart to loyalty, her hands to service, and her health to better living. Among this group were a number of her high school teachers. Judge Pam asked them to stand, introduced them to the crowd, and thanked them. She credited them for her becoming a lawyer and a judge.
Others in attendance had known her since she attended the University of Tennessee on a scholarship, becoming the first member of her family to graduate from college, inspiring her younger sisters to do the same. At UT she was a student leader, a Phi Beta Kappa, and a Torchbearer, the University’s highest honor for a graduating senior.
Many of her law school classmates and professors were there. They remembered her not only for being a law review editor and star student, but also for organizing “gala” parties and playing flag football, basketball and softball. She was vivacious and fun.
There were many lawyers there who had tried cases either with her or against her, and all admired her for her tenacity and civility. Many there had had conflicts resolved during her extraordinary work as a mediator. They admired her for her people skills that brought folks together.
There were young lawyers in attendance who knew her as a role model and mentor. And there was family, of course … her wonderful husband Charles Swanson, himself a former Tennessee Bar president and a great lawyer … and two future lawyers, their son Reedy and their daughter Amanda.
And what a celebration it was. It began with the presentation of the American flag and the Pledge of Allegiance led by a Girl Scout troop. The theater stage was crowded with judges, bar leaders, a governor, mayors and ministers.
There were speeches, of course. One of the most moving was by Reverend Dr. Jan Wade. She noted that Judge Pam was a woman of “keen intellect, unquestioned integrity, effervescent spirit, spontaneous humor, unpretentious manner, a sense of wonder at the world around her, and respect for the common man and woman.”
It was, as we trial lawyers say, a perfect summation.
And then Judge Pam was sworn in on a family Bible held by Reedy and Amanda.
The crowd responded not with applause, but cheers. They were celebrating not only the swearing in of a great judge, but how much had changed in the legal profession and our system of justice thanks to the trailblazing leadership of Pamela Reeves.
After that remarkable day, Judge Pamela Reeves took the bench, and quickly became known as a tireless worker who made decisions in difficult and challenging cases. She treated litigants and lawyers with respect, and by example she promoted civility in the profession.
Off the bench, she continued to mentor young lawyers, particularly female young lawyers, through Tennessee Leadership Law and appearances at law schools throughout the state. And almost everyone she met in life regarded her as a dear friend, and she was.
On Sept. 10, 2020, Judge Pamela lost a long and courageous battle with cancer.
We lost her too soon, but she left us a legacy of law and grace.
Law is all about relationships, and her remarkable life showed us what positive and loving and caring and affirming relationships are all about.
We celebrated her life and our life with her on that wonderful day she was sworn in as a United States District Judge. Let’s now continue that celebration by striving to live a life of law and grace as she, our dear friend, taught us.
BILL HALTOM is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association. He was blessed to have Judge Pam as a dear friend for more than 40 years.
The Pam Report: Sept. 10, 2020
Pam Reeves’ husband, Charles Swanson had kept friends updated on Pam’s health with a regular email report throughout her illness. This is reprinted with his permission.
I am very sad to say this will be our final Pam Report. We lost our Pam at 11:45 a.m. today. …
Over the past few weeks, Pam has been the recipient of many, many visits by those who were led to see her a last time and to share with her heartfelt appreciation for the person she has been and the amazing impact she has had on her friends (all of us!), persons she mentored, counseled and advised, her profession, her community, and the hearts and minds of all who were fortunate enough to have our path through this world brightened by the power and love of Comet Pam. What a privilege it has been to watch and listen as so many came to say thank you in such emotionally heartfelt ways.
So many, as well, took time in these last days to write, text, call, email and send recorded messages of love, devotion, gratitude and admiration. These messages were received with the humble “Who, me?” attitude those who knew her so well have come to expect. But they were all so real, so marked by wonder, love and gratitude that when it became necessary to read them to her because she could not focus herself I could barely do it without having to stop every paragraph to gather my emotions.
Here is a small sample of hundreds of messages sent in the past few days: I would never have pushed myself to do the things I have done without your encouragement. … You were not cut from the same cloth as the rest of us … Choosing to find the best in everyone … above petty conflicts, ignoring personal affronts … you have an inner compass that has never failed you … Thank you for being a wonderful example of how to be a strong, professional woman … New to the area, I had not heard of you when you assumed the bench..., yet, to this day, NEVER have I heard an unflattering word … You are fair, firm, respected and care about the people who come before you …What a positive impact you have had on my life … When we think of you, we smile … You are the one who cleared out my fridge when my mother-in-law died …You are a very strong and special lady … such an inspiration. …You are always giving a damn when it is not your turn to give a damn … Thank you for being an amazing role model …you overcame every hurdle and helped others overcome their hurdles … passionate, caring, fearless and determined … Your professional and personal impact on our state has been so significant …you have led, mentored and inspired so many.”
This is just a sample. You can’t tell which of these was a next door neighbor child, which was a law school dean and which was a Supreme Court Justice. Neither could she.
I always end these reports with a statement of gratitude. While this may be my last Pam Report for a while, this one can be no different. Thank you. Thank you for loving her, thank you for being a major part of our lives, thank you for your endless and overwhelming kindnesses you have extended to us throughout this journey. She taught us how to love and how to treat each other and how to hold one another close through good times and bad. Thank you to each and every one of you from the bottom of my currently aching heart. She taught us in her life and in her death how much we need each other and that will be no less true tomorrow than it is today. Let us together honor her life, her love and her legacy by staying close and by loving each other from the bottom of our hearts. I have started my part of that pledge already.
Much, much love, Charles
TBA Presidents Charles Swanson and Pam Reeves, in 2013.
Legal Community Mourns Pam Reeves
Kind words poured in upon the news of Judge Pamela L. Reeves’s death. Reeves was a trailblazer in many ways, one of which was as the first woman president of the Tennessee Bar Association. Read her obituary in this issue, and some of the responses here (edited for space). Go to https://www.tba.org/Pamela_Reeves to read many, many more -— and to add your own.
Following Pam as the first female president of the TBA was my great honor, and I always knew that her many contributions to the Bench and Bar would never be surpassed. She was generous with her time, energies, and, when asked, her sound advice. She was one of the old friends I have stayed in contact with since I retired and moved to Austin, and I’ll miss her. My love and condolences to Charles and her wonderful children. — Katie Edge
Pam Reeves was the best friend an attorney could have. She was the best friend ANYONE could have. Like so many others, I would not be where I am today without her friendship and guidance. She was a true pioneer in every sense. Her career is what everyone should aspire to. The Knoxville and Tennessee legal communities just lost one of their brightest lights. — Hanson Tipton
Judge Reeves was one of the nicest and most compassionate people I’ve met. As a law student coming into Knoxville knowing absolutely no one, she took me in and allowed me to have a family away from home in a way that went so far beyond the legal profession. Her willingness to be a steady hand and a guiding force for young people every day I knew her is an inspiration, not just for me but for all the clerks and interns and students who got to learn from her over the years. Knoxville is a better place because of her, and her kindness and strength will be felt far, far into the future. — Gordon Pera
Judge Pam Reeves was truly a leader, mentor, friend and shoulder to lean on for many of us, especially for those of us — both the laity and the lawyers — in hours of darkness. When she was selected by President Obama to her judgeship, I thought that she would be the quintessence of what our nation’s citizens need in a federal judge. She never failed us. Then again, with a character, a sense of determination and grit, and as well a sense of compassion forged as well as hers was, one could never be in doubt. … She leaves us equally glad to have known her, and appreciative that here was a person who always did her utmost, for as long as she possible could, even in the face of cancer. …In a time when we all need real, honest-to-God heroes, she is beyond doubt one of mine. — Jack (Nick) McCall
My friendship with Pam goes back to our days at UT Law. Pam had a wide circle of friends and once a friend, you were always a friend. Pam was the same in law school as she was as a federal judge. She knew who she was and stayed true to herself. Pam was very accomplished but remained humble. She was always kind and quick to offer help to anyone. Pam and Charles hosted some wonderful UT VOL tailgate parties and cookouts on their deck. Charles, Amanda, Reedy and Pam’s sisters are in my prayers. — Sharon Lee
I served with Pam on the Board of the Tennessee Bar Foundation. She was smart, kind, thoughtful and a blessing to have on the Board. She deserved every achievement she ever earned as well as those bestowed upon her in her honor and she leaves a true legacy. — Mike Spitzer
Judge Reeves was the first law student I met before starting. There is literally no one who is more universally respected and admired than her. Her passing is a terrible loss not only to the law, but also to each of us. — Margaret Jane Powers
Judge Reeves was kind enough to let me intern for her after my 1L year. Through her, I discovered a love of clerking and writing opinions. I owe my current career as a law clerk entirely to her guidance and mentorship. I will miss her greatly. — Duncan Bryant
Judge Reeves was a mentor to me when I first started practicing law 30 years ago. I worked as an associate in her firm. I credit her and her firm with my development as an attorney. I have fond memories of late nights eating takeout while preparing for the next day of trials. — Angela Ripper
I interned for Judge Reeves in the Summer of 2019 following my first year of law school at the University of Tennessee College of Law. At that time, Judge Reeves saw something in me that I could not yet appreciate. She allowed me to be myself — which undoubtedly included a few mistakes and a misstatement here and there — and she never missed an opportunity to help me grow as a young attorney and as a person. I will never forget her stories about navigating through the legal field at a time when few women were around to serve as leaders, role models and mentors. … Judge Reeves showed me (and everyone else) what women are capable of achieving both in the legal field and as community leaders. — Kayla Rask
Judge Reeves will long be remembered as a great attorney, mediator and finally Chief Judge of the Eastern District. She set a standard that can be aspired to by any lawyer and left us a legacy that will not be forgotten. A great friend and jurist, we have lost a giant in the profession and on the Federal Bench. — Rick Powers
I was honored to have had the opportunity to work with Pam on a number of meetings and projects while I was a member of the TBA staff. While I have many memories of her as a leader, lawyer and judge, the first image that comes to mind when I think of Pam is of her carrying my infant son around much of the evening in the hospitality suite following the 1994 fall Board of Governors and YLD meetings at the Martha Washington Inn in Abingdon, Virginia. Pam was my role model for how to be a mother and a professional. — Betsy Hilt
I remember so well the first time I met Pam and she told me she was going to enter law school and be a lawyer. She did and as we all know she was a great lawyer and judge and a role model for many young lawyers. Pam loved her family and friends and never met a stranger. … We are all better for having Pam in our lives. — Dan Nolan
Pam was not only a selfless colleague who served as a model and mentor for me (along with countless others) and who welcomed me into the court family in 2014, she was a cherished friend. I will remember many things about Pam, but I often think of how she always shared warm hugs in greeting, evidencing her understanding of the power of human connection. — Suzanne Bauknight
Pam was one of the first lawyers I met when I moved here and started a practice 25 years ago. Through all that time, she has been a friend, a mentor, and an example of the highest professional standards. … In addition to her personal qualities, she was a very skilled mediator who could bring together difficult parties to reach agreement and also a respected judge. — Katherine Young
Before Pam became a distinguished judge, she was a distinguished lawyer who represented many municipalities in mostly tort and civil rights cases. In addition to her vast knowledge, she brought competence and compassion in her advocacy for municipal causes. She combined a hard-nosed realism with respect to the law with humanity in her advice and assistance to municipal officials and city attorneys. She was kind and considerate and made others feel secure that she would do her best, which was always excellent. — Dennis Huffer
Pam took office as the first woman to serve as TBA president just three months after I assumed the role of TBA executive director. We had known each other through law school, young lawyer activities and other bar work. I am honored to have served with her. Her defining initiative was Jury Reform. The commission she appointed studied Tennessee’s antiquated jury processes and advocated for improvements, most of which survive today. Many of those changes were targeted at improving the experience of jurors like juror questions, juror note-taking and permitting jurors to have some say in scheduling their availability. Thus the changes reflected basic respect for humanity in the process, something she cared about. — Allan Ramsaur
Some people cast a large shadow. Everyone I know in the practice of law and many outside it have a story or they light up with a smile when Pam’s name comes up. She made me feel like family from the first day Charles joined our firm decades ago and in every instance of interaction since. Soon after I met her, she knocked my father off of a jury panel proudly stating that he was the father of her husband’s partner. I was a pretty green associate. He and I both were very proud that day. She was a giant of the bar and a truly great human being. I have been blessed to interact with the greats and Judge Reeves was and is high on my list. — William Mynatt
I was lucky to have Judge Reeves perform the marriage ceremony between me and my husband. She was so thoughtful and prepared a ceremony that felt personal. She was always so kind to me and was a good example of being an empathetic member of the legal community. She will be greatly missed. — Jesse Harbison
From the time each of us knew Pam, we recognized her skills as a natural orator and advocate. She never seemed to have notes, but could so clearly and beautifully articulate ideas and principals we share to advance a winning argument. And share a laugh. (or wine and a great recipe, or gardening tips). So it should not have been surprising when I saw Pam preside over an immigration/naturalization ceremony in Knoxville that I expected her usual magnificent presentation. I was blown away. As she relayed the story of her beginnings to the crowded arena, she was speaking to each one of the persons being naturalized that day. Her message was personal and passionate, uplifting and inspiring; surely it instilled in these newest citizens the promise and privilege that our country holds for each of us. Not surprisingly, she had enlisted assistance to have a voter registration booth adjacent to the arena so that these new citizens could register to vote immediately. Our Constitution, our rule of law, our Country and everything for which it stands, were an integral part of Pam. That is another one of the gifts that she has given to us. This is one memory of her that day that I hold dear — her clear voice and clear message-– in all the uncertainty and cacophony, her truth still holds steady and strong. …
We are supposed to be wordsmiths, and storytellers; that is our talent in our profession as legal problem solvers. Because of our love for her, and her beautiful family, her immutable ideals, and her very essence, this collective project, to honor someone we loved so dearly, is still painfully difficult. So very, very difficult. — Marcy Eason
Pam Reeves was a lawyer’s lawyer, a gifted mediator and a great federal judge. In every dealing I had with her, she was polite, prepared, considerate and knew the case better than the parties and lawyers. Her passing is a tremendous loss to the legal community and the bench. —Bill Jakes
The intellect, work ethic and leadership skills of Judge Pam Reeves carried her far. She has been recognized with countless honors for her professional accomplishments. But those who knew her will remember her for her compassionate nature, her ability to connect with people and make them feel special, her boundless energy and her joy of life. She was a leader, mentor, role model and jurist, but most of all a friend who not just touched, but impacted, the lives of so many. She is greatly missed. — Sarah Sheppeard
Pam Reeves was one of my legal heroes. Not only did she whip me in court, she also helped and guided me in several aspects of my practice. Her mediation skills were wonderful, and particularly, I enjoyed the times that, when she was in private practice, I would call and ask her advice about many thorny legal problems. — Francis Santore Jr.
Pam was such a sparkling, smart young student in her years at UT when I first knew her, deeply committed to environmental protection for the public and for nature — working hard in our efforts to save an extraordinary river, valley, farms, farmers, and a very special little fish against a project that would eliminate far more than it would ever create. She traveled to Washington with us for the case in the Supreme Court and made a little museum to it in her judicial chambers.... — Zyg Plater
As a member of the TBA Leadership Law class of 2018, I am grateful to Judge Reeves for helping to found the TBALL program and for giving so much of her time to the mentorship of young and diverse lawyers. She set such a high standard for what a leader in the Bar should be, while remaining so approachable and kind. As so many have said, Judge Reeves had a remarkable ability to connect with everyone she spoke with and make them feel special. … — Hannah Lowe
While her resume is full of successes and “firsts” that does not begin to reflect the depth of her loving concern and compassion for others. From stressful law school days to challenging days on the bench and in leadership of the TBA, I never once saw her without a warm, glowing smile on her face. She was quick to ask about family and friends … and truly mean it. She was fiercely proud of Charlie and her children and always had a ready “proud mom” story. Her inner beauty shone through and her face literally radiated peace and joy. We are all blessed to know her, and she called us all to be our best selves. — Deborah Taylor Tate
When I was a third-year law student at UT, I worked in the legal clinic. I was assigned a paternity dispute. Judge Reeves, then Pam, was my opposing counsel. She “cleaned my clock” that day. I learned a lot that day including never assume anything in or from a court proceeding. I later served with Judge Reeves on the TBA Board of Governors and used her frequently as a mediator. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to appear before her while she was on the bench. She was a fine person and I admired her greatly. Pam represented and practiced the things that are great about our profession: civility, respect, kindness, humility, knowledge of the law, and professionalism. — Mark Dessauer
- Issue Homepage
- The Right to Remain Silent: Law Enforcement and the Duty to Intervene
- My Time on Death Row
- Remembering Judge Pamela Reeves
- Modern Challenges to Agency Deference
- Reflecting on Our Health, Families, Safety and Purpose
- When Seniors Are Forced to Leave a Facility
- Protecting Attorney- Client Privilege (Part II)
- Clash of the Titans: Tennessee's First Great Murder Trial
- LETTERS OF THE LAW
- NEWS: Run for TBA Office, Petitions Due Feb. 15, 2021
- SECTIONS: Law Students, Lawyers Pair Up at Crim Law Day
- 50 YEARS: 1970 Officers + a New Way to Choose Judges
- LICENSURE & DISCIPLINE
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