Local Obituaries

First female dean at UM law school, Minnette Massey dies at 89

M. Minnette Massey spent 57 years at the University of Miami School of Law. She was its first female law professor, first female dean. She retired in 2015.
M. Minnette Massey spent 57 years at the University of Miami School of Law. She was its first female law professor, first female dean. She retired in 2015. UM School of Law

University of Miami law professor M. Minnette Massey shattered the glass ceiling so many years ago — 1958 — that the familiar term was decades away from entering the popular vernacular.

In that year, Massey was one of 14 women nationwide to crack the male-dominated world of law school professors. She joined the University of Miami faculty in 1958 after graduating from its law school in 1951 and earning her master’s in law from New York University.

Massey, who died Nov. 13 at 89, also took time off in between degrees to climb the Matterhorn in the Alps — a feat she kept secret from her parents.

“She was found out because when she reached the top she was interviewed by a BBC reporter and her parents heard the broadcast,” said niece Lee Penninger, who, like several family members, followed Massey into the legal field.

Minnette was a very passionate, honest and fun person. The crazy kid in her was always around.

Niece Lee Penninger on Minnette Massey

By 1961, Massey was assistant dean of the law school. A year later, she became the law school’s acting dean, the first woman to serve in that role. She held the position for more than three years.

Massey, whom Catharine Skipp, UM Law School’s director of media relations, affectionately called a “fair-haired, green-eyed spitfire — think Shirley MacLaine, only loads smarter,” had fans in U.S. Supreme Court justices Hugo Black and William Douglas. They admired her intellect and skills as a raconteur, Skipp said. In 1982, Massey was a finalist to fill a Florida Supreme Court vacancy.

The University of Miami Law School has lost perhaps its greatest champion.

Charlton Copeland, faculty adviser for UM’s Florida Supreme Court internship program in a UM news release

Massey, born May 5, 1927, in Stratford, Connecticut, won numerous awards, including the Center for Ethics and Public Service Lawyers in Leadership Award and the Law Alumni Association’s Thomas Davison III Memorial Service Award in 2004. She retired from UM in 2015 after 57 years.

“In life, you occasionally have the opportunity of meeting someone whose impact on her world was unique,” Joseph Klock Jr., a 1974 UM law grad, said in a UM news release. “Dean Massey fought all the fights. I suspect that she and Janet Reno will make quite an impact in their new home.”

Massey is survived by her sister Amanda Clark, and many nieces and nephews. Services will be at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 464 NE 16th St., Miami. Donations can be sent to M. Minnette Massey Scholarship Fund at the University of Miami School of Law, P.O. Box 248087, Coral Gables, Florida, 33124.

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