Chief Justice of the Wyoming Supreme Court Kate Fox ’73 is the 2023 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient. This award recognizes George School Alumni who have used their talents, expertise, and personal commitment to make a positive impact on those around them. With her wholehearted dedication to conscientious leadership, advocacy, and public service, the selection committee was inspired by the ways Kate “lets her life speak.”
Kate’s journey to leadership in the Wyoming Supreme Court did not follow a traditional path—nor did her educational career at George School. “I went to college instead of having a traditional senior year; and the deal was I would graduate along with the Class of 1973 once I completed my freshman year of college,” recalled Kate. “But I had a take-home exam in psychology; to write a paper on Freud’s interpretation of Watergate. By that time I had gone to my family’s ranch in Wyoming for the summer–I was riding horses and building fences and irrigating the meadows, and the relevance of that paper, if there ever was one, faded every day. I never wrote the paper on Freud’s interpretation of Watergate, never passed the psychology class, and never did officially graduate from George School.”
At the age of sixteen, Kate moved to a ranch in rural Dubois WY from Philadelphia, a transition which prepared her well for a public service career in Wyoming and instilled an appreciation for serving the people of the state. Making progress toward her undergraduate degree off and on, in between working on the family ranch, cleaning hotel rooms in Jackson Hole WY, and being a self-described “ski bum,” she graduated from the University of Wyoming in 1983 with her bachelor’s degree in Journalism.
Traveling, skiing, and guiding pack trips after graduation did not give her the sense of purpose she yearned for. She was ready to lay down roots in Wyoming and find a more meaningful path.
“When I was thirty years old I went to law school. Although I had no particular commitment to studying law when I started, it turned out that I loved it–for me the combination of analytical thinking and a compassionate purpose were a perfect fit. I had found my niche.”
After graduating from the University of Wyoming Law School in 1989, Kate clerked for Federal District Judge Clarence A. Brimmer, whom she credits as a mentor and, later, inspiration for pursuing a career as a judge. She joined Davis & Cannon, LLP in 1990 where she worked on a variety of cases with a focus on employment law, litigation, administrative law, natural resources law, and water law. She practiced with Davis & Cannon until her appointment to the Wyoming Supreme Court in 2014.
The Quaker values Kate learned at George School inform the way she approaches her vocation today. “The work of courts can be very hard–we see some of the worst of humanity–from violent crime, to child abuse, to spiteful litigation for its own sake,” said Kate. “At the same time, I believe absolutely in the importance of providing people with a fair and accessible forum for resolving their disputes. And I believe, no matter how human conduct may discourage us, we start with trusting their best intentions. If we see ‘that of God in each of us,’ we can continue to make the decisions that judges must make everyday, with compassion.”
In 2021, Kate was selected as Chief Justice, which made her the second woman in Wyoming’s history to serve in the role. Today, she leads the first majority-women Supreme Court in the state’s history. “I’m proud, of course, to be the second woman Chief Justice in the state. I hope that I’m a role model for other girls and women,” said Kate during an interview with Wyoming Public Radio. “On the other hand, I sort of wish that that was not even notable. I mean, do they ask Chief Justice Davis, who was just the outgoing one, how does it feel to be the 27th male chief justice in Wyoming? No, that question does not come up. And I would like to have the day arrive when that is not the question for women either.”
Kate credits George School with cultivating her love of learning, critical thinking skills, and ability to ask thoughtful questions—traits which are imperative given her role leading Wyoming’s judicial branch. “The other important thing I took away from George School is the ability to acquire knowledge. By that I mean not just stuffing facts and theories into our heads, but processing them, applying critical thinking. I find that being introduced to a new concept, working to grasp it, and then having a light go on, is fun. It also helps me be a better leader.”
Kate’s unconventional journey serves as an inspiration and a reminder to fellow travelers of all ages who are searching for their purpose that life doesn’t always present direct pathways. “My path was not a straight one,” said Kate on Wyoming Public Radio. “I think there is a lot of pressure on young people to know exactly what they want to be when they grow up and take a straight line there. And for some people that works great, but not for everybody. And I am a prime example of that.”
Kate will speak to students on Friday, May 5, 2023 during an All-School Assembly, and receive the Distinguished Alumni Award on Saturday, May 6 during Alumni Weekend.