Lending light to countries lamps: a tribute to Judge Norma Levy Shapiro.

Author:O'Connor, Sandra Day

There is a sad but common misconception in our society that time and energy contributed to others is time and energy lost. Rare is the individual with the perspective to recognize that we may give without losing, and that it is often in giving that we gain.

Judge Norma Shapiro is such an individual. In a career that has spanned more than five remarkable decades, Judge Shapiro has demonstrated a sincere selflessness that is immeasurable in its impact. She has said that one of her favorite quotations is from the ancient Roman official Gaius, who poignantly noted that "[o]ne who helps the wandering traveler does, as it were, light another's lamp by their own, and it gives no less light because it helped another." (1) And indeed, as we pay tribute to her extraordinary professional and personal accomplishments, we cannot help but recognize the countless lamps to which she has lent her light.

When she began law school in 1948, Judge Shapiro was one of only eight women in her class at the University of Pennsylvania. As one whose timing and experience was parallel, I can say with some confidence that this path sometimes was not easy. Nonetheless, Judge Shapiro thrived. She served as an editor of the Law Review and graduated at the top of her class. And in the years that followed, women who walked the same path into that predominantly male world knew that they could count on her to share her insights and advice and to lend a little of her courage and charisma to those whose lamps might otherwise have flickered.

As her career progressed, Judge Shapiro's light continued to shine in dark corners where women never before had traveled. As one of the first women to become a partner at any major Philadelphia law firm, she lit the way for generations of women who would follow in her footsteps. She was the first woman on the Philadelphia Bar Association's Board of Governors, and later, its first female chair. She was the first woman to be appointed to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the first woman to sit on the federal bench in all of the Third Circuit. Yet Judge Shapiro humbly recognized that it simply is not enough for there to be a "first." Ever willing to serve as a mentor, a resource, an example, and a friend, she tirelessly assisted others who became the "seconds," and "thirds," and so forth. She founded the Women's Law Project, a coalition of women attorneys dedicated to education and public policy. In...

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