This is the twenty-third of our Court Times articles that highlight up close and personal a member of the Indiana Judiciary.
Henry Circuit Court Judge Mary Willis is our judge featured in this issue. She received her undergraduate degree from the Ball State University and her law degree from the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. Following graduation from law school in 1991, she was in private law practice in Greenfield until 1996 when then Henry Circuit Court Judge John Kellam appointed her as his Commissioner. Judge Kellam retired in 2002, and she ran for his bench. She was elected as Henry Circuit Court Judge in November 2002 and has served in that capacity since January 2003.
Judge Willis and her husband Todd are the proud parents of two children, Sam (17) and Cate (6). Todd is Sales Manager for the telecommunications firm U.S. Signal.
What do you like most and least about being a trial court judge?
My favorite thing about being a judge is the platform it provides to teach people why we live in the greatest country on earth. We get the opportunity to exemplify the best about our profession each day in front of the people who come before us; and, on a regular basis we are able to discuss justice in the grander sense when addressing larger groups. I love being able to start new and innovative programs to demonstrate that our legal system is interconnected to everyone’s daily life.
I am saddened when the worst part of our political process thwarts communication and progress.
What was your major in college and why did you decide to study law?
I majored in Political Science, with a minor in Criminal Justice, at Ball State University. In the simplest terms, I decided to study law because I wanted to help people and it seemed like the best way to do just that.
What would you do if you were not a judge?
I think I would like to teach. I never learn more than when I teach someone else. Of course, I hear jobs are hard to come by, so I would take the job of a party planner in a heartbeat.
Who are the people you most admire?
I was raised by a mother with a Bible under one arm and rules of etiquette under the other and a father who was wrapped in the American flag. I admire them for instilling in their children core values of service, patriotism, and respect. I also admire the judges that have come before us and fought and won battles for judicial independence that we take for granted.
What are your hobbies or favorite leisure activities, and how did you first get involved?
I am an avid scrap-booker, which means I am a very amateur photographer. I enjoy preserving and chronicling the life journeys of our family and friends. I am also a huge movie buff and love a good movie in the theatre, of course with popcorn!
What are your favorite books, and have you read any recently, or are reading now, that you would recommend?
My favorite book is To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, which I have read out loud to my children. I read best sellers and anything people are talking about. Favorite authors include John Grisham and Patricia Cornwell.
One of my favorite pieces of jewelry is a bracelet with tiles of the covers of banned books through history (including To Kill A Mockingbird). My niece gave me a tile with the inscription “I Read Banned Books.” She remembered that I told her when she was young that no one should tell you what you can read or how you should think.
Where did you grow up and how would you describe your childhood?
I was a Navy brat and lived in McLean, Virginia until 1973 when we moved for two years to the Island of Bermuda where my father served as Commanding Officer of the US Naval Station. My father trained as a pilot at Pensacola at the end of World War II and served from 1945 until he retired as a Captain in 1975. When he retired, we relocated to Valparaiso, Indiana—chosen because it was halfway between my father’s family in western Wisconsin and my mother’s family in southern Virginia.
I was the youngest of three children. I have an older brother living in Virginia and an older sister who passed away 10 years ago. My childhood was perfect.
Do you have a favorite quote(s)?
“There is a time we know not when, a point we know not where,
That marks the destiny of men to glory or despair.”
“There is a line, by us unseen, that crosses every path,
A hidden boundary between God’s patience and his wrath.”
These quotes are from old Methodist hymns my grandmother used to sing.
Where is your favorite vacation spot?
We own a place on Mackinac Island, Michigan and vacation there for 2 weeks every summer. No cars are allowed on the island and it is the place where we truly relax and bond as a family.
Do you have a favorite meal, recipe, and restaurant?
I am partial to Italian food like my mother’s homemade spaghetti and the comfort foods concocted by my brother-in-law in his Chicago restaurant, Cucina Bella. He closed it several years ago when he returned to teaching at Marian Catholic High School.
A favorite local restaurant is Bonge’s Tavern in Perkinsville, Indiana, which I recommend highly to all my fellow judges.