Back in 1971, a friend dared Mary Lisbeth Davidson to take the law school admission test. It was an audacious move for a divorced mother of four children, all under the age of 7. And it came at a time when there were few female attorneys in the profession.
About a year later, Davidson began law school at the University of Minnesota, launching a pioneering career as an attorney and Hennepin County judge.
"She had tremendous energy and drive," said her daughter, Catherine Winter, of Duluth.
Davidson, of Plymouth, died June 21. She was 82.
Born near Milwaukee, the granddaughter of one of the founders of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Davidson graduated from Stanford University in just three years.
While studying at the U, Davidson suffered a serious ankle injury after being hit by a drunken driver. Undeterred, she had classmates carry her into Fraser Hall for lectures. And she repeatedly lifted a bucket of sand to strengthen her injured limb, her daughter recalled.
Davidson began her career at a time when just 16% of her law school class was female. She specialized in family law because she wanted to make a difference, particularly with families and children going through the painful process of divorce, said her son, Bill Winter, of Orono.
She sought to help families "get through a difficult and emotionally draining process without hating each other and without huge scars," Bill Winter said.
After a stint as a referee in Hennepin County Family Court, then-Gov. Rudy Perpich appointed Davidson district judge in 1987. She became chief judge of Family Court two years later.
Davidson subsequently launched Divorce With Dignity, a groundbreaking program that encouraged divorcing couples to try mediation as opposed to going to trial. The program was a resounding success.
"She was one of the first people who really pushed to reform family law in Minnesota," said Kevin Burke, retired chief judge of Hennepin County, and Davidson's law school classmate.
Mindy Mitnick was a child psychologist in Hennepin County when she met Davidson, and the two became lifelong friends.
"She had a positive impact on an untold number of families," Mitnick said.
Davidson approached retirement with the same fervor and dedication as her legal career. She volunteered with Chrysalis and Open Arms, often with her children and grandchildren in tow.
"That was our tradition, embracing the importance of giving back," Bill Winter said.
Family members said Davidson was an enthusiastic sports fan, whether it was cheering for the Chicago Cubs, tennis champ Rafael Nadal, or at family sporting events.
"Growing up, she was so loud in the stands my sister and I refused to sit next to her," Catherine Winter said.
Davidson enjoyed traveling to her second home on St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as frequent trips to Italy — she learned Italian to connect with the local community.
She and Mitnick loved eating out, the more adventurous the cuisine the better. The duo was determined to find the best pho in the Twin Cities.
Davidson even knitted with purpose and flair — outfitting loved ones with her woolen masterpieces.
"She was so connected and involved in all sorts of things," Catherine Winter said, noting her mother enjoyed playing bridge, talking politics and reading.
Davidson's son, Bill, will especially miss his mother's "fantastic sense of humor. She had these piercing blue eyes, and when she gave you a sidelong look, you just knew it would be a zinger."
Davidson is also survived by daughter Anne Tremel of Minnetonka; son Peter Winter of Maple Grove; and six grandchildren.
A Celebration of Life will be held from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday at Interlachen Country Club in Edina.