MONROE — Patricia Costello, who started her legal career in a bank trust department because law firms didn’t hire women, and at age 46 became the first woman elected judge in Monroe County, died Jan. 25 in her home. She was 89.
She had cancer, but her illness was brief, her daughter Mary said.
Mrs. Costello — who outside of the courthouse preferred to be called “Pat,” her son Philip said — retired as a District Court judge in 1998, the end of her fourth six-year term.
“She always said she was blessed, and she thought it her obligation to do the most for the most people she could,” said her son, a lawyer in Monroe.
Out to lunch or dinner in retirement, she had former defendants approach to say they took her words to heart and cleaned up their lives, found work, gotten married.
“ ‘You told me things I needed to hear at the time,’” they said, her son recalled. “That happened so many times I can’t even count them.”
She was born Feb. 11, 1928, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Mary and Frank Head. She grew up in St. Paul and the Chicago area. She received her law degree from DePaul University in 1950. She found that law firms were not accepting women as members, her daughter said, but she could use her law degree in the trust department of Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Co.
She married Philip Costello, whom she’d met at law school, in 1951. They moved to South Carolina for his service in the Naval Reserve, then returned to the Chicago area, but didn’t stay long. He grew discontented with his daily big-city commute and joined the Monroe law practice of a cousin. The family moved in 1956, and he eventually formed another firm. When he died in 1966, the couple had six children, ages 2-13. Mrs. Costello passed the Michigan Bar exam in 1967 and practiced law with his firm.
In 1974, Mrs. Costello told The Blade after her historic election, county political observers as well as a “politically oriented women’s group” approached her to take on incumbent Judge Charles Golden. She won by a margin of nearly 3-1. Her campaign staff was young, “so what they lacked in experience they made up for in aggressiveness and hard work,” she told The Blade in 1975.
Her achievement has been touted ever since. Her chief concern, her daughter said, “was caring for the six of us. She would say that the accomplishments in her life were really just blessings from God.”
Her son Philip, though not allowed to practice law in front of her, often watched her in action from the gallery.
“She would think about things and treated everybody with utmost respect,” she said. “She was one of those people who could with a soft voice control an entire room. Just expressing disapproval was enough to make people behave the way they ought to.”
She was a former president of United Way in Monroe County and a council member of St. Mary Parish. Her memberships included Monroe County Rotary Club and the Monroe County NAACP. Her supporters for years included labor organizations and both major political parties, her son said.
Surviving are her daughters Mary Costello and Ann Brady; sons Philip, Holden, Kevin, and Daniel Costello, and 13 grandchildren.
Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Mary Church in Monroe, where the body will be after 10 a.m. Arrangements are by Bacarella Funeral Home, Monroe.
The family suggests tributes to the Sean Brady Memorial Scholarship Fund, named for a late grandson of Mrs. Costello’s, in care of Monroe Public Schools.
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