Kathryn “Kay” Trumbull, Snohomish County Superior Court’s first female judge, died March 10 at age 79. (Family Photo Courtesy of Sue Camber)

Kathryn Trumbull, first woman on county Superior Court, dies

Kay Trumbull was first, but would be far from the last. As the first female Snohomish County Superior Court judge, she forged a path for local women jurists who followed.

It was 1990 when then-Gov. Booth Gardner appointed Trumbull to the Superior Court bench. She not only broke down a gender barrier in the local legal community, her inspiring career didn’t begin until she was a single mother of teen-agers. While attending the University of Washington School of Law, where she graduated in 1974, she was raising three children.

Kathryn “Kay” Trumbull died March 10 at age 79. She had retired in 1999, but worked later as a judge pro tem. Colleagues said her passion was justice for children and families.

Today, seven of Snohomish County’s 15 Superior Court judges are women: Judges Marybeth Dingledy, Janice Ellis, Ellen Fair, Anita Farris, Millie Judge, Linda Krese and Cindy Larsen.

“She was a great trailblazer,” said Krese, the third woman to join the Superior Court bench. “She was very intelligent, capable, strong, and a very nice woman. She was certainly supportive of those who came after.”

Trumbull and Judge Larry McKeeman, who retired in 2012, were the first two Superior Court judges to serve at the Denney Juvenile Justice Center after it opened in 1997, Krese said.

“She is really remembered for the work she did in juvenile court,” said David Patterson, a retired Everett attorney. Patterson worked with Trumbull in the Snohomish County prosecutor’s office and in private practice. “It’s a real loss,” he said.

Vickie Norris, Trumbull’s close friend, is an attorney with the Anderson Hunter Law Firm in Everett. Norris worked with Trumbull at the prosecutor’s office. “She was my supervisor in the ’70s,” Norris said. “She had a great, bright mind, and she worked her fanny off.”

Trumbull was then the chief criminal deputy in the prosecutor’s office — the first woman in that role. “She was a fantastic mentor on proper prosecution,” Norris said.

Norris said Trumbull and several others had advanced women’s rights by bringing a claim against Snohomish County “when she thought she was treated unfairly on the basis of gender.” The claim was resolved through a settlement.

Once recognized as the Snohomish County Bar Association Judge of the Year, Trumbull was also a leader in Washington Women Lawyers. She had also worked as a Superior Court commissioner. Among the major cases she heard was the 1993 trial of serial arsonist Paul Kenneth Keller.

Trumbull is survived by her children, son Larry Trumbull, and daughters Sue Camber and Patti Blue. She also leaves a sister, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. Camber, of Snohomish, marvels at all her mother achieved. “It’s pretty remarkable. I don’t know if she slept,” she said.

In a 2005 Herald interview, Trumbull said she was in her 30s when she found herself “about to be divorced and facing supporting my family.” The daughter of a Seattle grocer, she attended Shoreline Community College before earning an undergraduate degree in psychology at UW and going to law school.

During those college years, money was tight. Still, Camber said her mother managed to buy student tickets to take her kids to Husky football games. She also scrimped to buy season passes to Stevens Pass.

“The other thing, she sort of adopted people into our family. At Thanksgiving and Christmas, if people needed a place to go they would always be invited,” Camber said. “She had so many friends.”

Carol McRae was another close friend. Retired as a judge in the South Division of Snohomish County District Court, McRae attends the Seattle Opera with several other women. Trumbull was part of that group. “Kay was my mentor, and certainly was instrumental in my decision to seek a judicial position,” McRae said. “She was absolutely a wonderful person and an outstanding judge.”

McRae said Trumbull advised friends to retire early and enjoy life. “I’m so pleased she followed the advice she gave the rest of us,” McRae said. “She did a lot of traveling.”

Norris remembers a trip to Laughlin, Nevada, where Trumbull loved to play the slots. “She was a magician with the slot machines. Kay had the electromagnetic force,” Norris said.

Trumbull loved cats, calico cats especially. Her dog Lily was known as her “cat-dog.”

“She was a great colleague, a really caring person and a really interesting person,” Krese said. “I feel privileged I got to work with her. She was a really good judge.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Celebration of life

A celebration of Kay Trumbull’s life is scheduled for 2-5 p.m. Saturday at the Snohomish Senior Center, 506 Fourth St. Guests are invited to wear University of Washington purple (T-shirts and sweatshirts welcome) in honor of Trumbull’s Husky football fandom.

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