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Legal pioneer feted at Women’s Club

Patricia Butler cupped her hands around her mouth and called out for the one-man band on stage to play “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” He nodded toward her table and, armed with his guitar, computer and microphone, began the song. Butler’s blue eyes shined as she swayed to the rhythm of the music, her lips outlined in bright red lipstick whispering the words to the song.

Butler was the guest of honor at a luncheon held on St. Patrick’s Day as the La Jolla Woman’s Club celebrated the life of this Irish woman who turned 100 years old in December.

A large green button on her jacket that read “Honorary Irishman” pointed her out as the star, otherwise it would have been difficult to pick out the centenarian in the room. She called out song requests like a teenager at a concert. She laughed and chatted with the other women at her table as they ate clover-shaped cookies and ice cream. Though she walked at a more moderate pace than she probably did 50 years ago, her mind seemed as quick as someone half her age.

“I must have inherited good genes,” she said, as to why she has lived so long.

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Born in Brooklyn, New York on Dec. 23, 1907, Butler was an only child and grew up in Atlanta, GA. Her father had always wanted to be a lawyer but instead had a career representing typewriter companies. So when Butler decided she wanted to go to law school, it was her father who was supportive while her mother was a bit hesitant about her daughter stepping outside of a traditional female role.

“My mother used to sort of apologize for me,” she said, adding that her mother finally said she could go into law for one year.

Instead, Butler’s legal career lasted 40 years.

A few years after graduating from Emory University School of Law in 1931 as one of the first women to do so, Butler became one of the first female attorneys in the U.S. Department of Justice, working in Washington, D.C.

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She said she wasn’t worried about working among all of the male attorneys.

“I expected to be accepted. I never had any trouble,” she said.

Butler said she also did not have trouble with clients questioning her abilities.

“They took me without hesitation (and without) wondering if they were properly represented,” she said.

Over the course of her life, Butler has been married three times, with each husband passing away. She never had any children of her own, but she said she has a “flock” of children and grandchildren from her marriages.

With three marriages under her belt, Butler said the key to a successful marriage for women is to “divide your loyalties.”

“Regard your husband as part of your life. Realize that your life is for two instead of one,” she said.

As the La Jolla Woman’s Club luncheon in her honor carried on with dance performances and songs, she sat watching with a gentle smile on her face. All around her, guests were outfitted in green to celebrate the holiday. Right by her side Keta Diaz sat with a much-admired flashing green clover leaf on her jacket.

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Diaz said she has been Butler’s registered nurse for the past three years.

“I feel like I’m very privileged,” she said, describing Butler as the “ideal patient” and an inspiration.

“What she has accomplished, not many people have accomplished. She is very well-liked,” Diaz said.

Barbara Penn was one of the women at Butler’s table, calling the lively 100-year-old “charming.”

Even as the dancers performed on stage and voices from the crowd came up to join the one-man band in song, Butler remained cheerful with all of the guests who had come to honor her.

She said she looks forward to doing more traveling, especially in Europe.

Of all the things she has learned, from working through various presidential administrations and traveling the world, she said the most important thing was to wait.

“Stand your ground and be patient,” she said.

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Advice she seems still to be heeding.