Almost three years ago Peg and I attended a fund-raising dinner for Catherine Place, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping women. Here is their mission: “We are committed to addressing the particular needs of women who are materially poor, in transition, or facing the daily challenges associated with poverty, loss, violence, immigration and illness.” We like Catherine Place and their efforts. Their Keynote Speaker was Pierce County Superior Court Judge G. Helen Whitener.
Here’s how I described Judge Whitener in an article for northwestadventures.us – “Judge Whitener is active locally, nationally and internationally in various community service activities. With a strong commitment to justice and equality for all people, and a unique perspective as a woman, an immigrant, and a person of color, she speaks often on human rights, access to justice, and basic dignity and respect in judicial proceedings.” I was so impressed I had to introduce myself to her at the end of the evening. Later when Governor Jay Inslee selected Judge Whitener to fill a position on the Washington State Supreme Court I gave a cheer and my estimate of the governor went up accordingly. I had long spoken up for him and his efforts to protect us from COVID:19.
We recently met with Lynn Rainey, Justice Whitener’s wife. We relaxed, talked and laughed for about two hours. About a week later we met with Lynn and Helen. We had a chance to record some very informal comments from Helen about her life and journey to Washington Supreme Court Justice, as well as her dedication to helping and encouraging students.
Helen Whitener grew up on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago. She needed medical treatment that was not available in her home country. As a consequence, at 16 years old she came to the US for treatment while staying with family in New York. When the treatment was finished, she applied for college, then law school and became a naturalized citizen.
Before coming to Washington State she worked in International Marketing and Trade in Anchorage, Alaska. We really get a laugh out of her story about her introduction to the Pacific Northwest . . . and we really love Helen’s laughter.
Introduction to Alaska
Justice Whitener has always been a teacher and mentor to students. Online, I met Gregory Youtz, Professor of Music at Pacific Lutheran University and the director of the Trinidad Study Abroad Program. I asked him if he knew Helen. Here was Greg’s resonse. “I do indeed know Helen Whitener! She hosted my group of about 23 Trinidadians for dinner a few years ago when I brought them to PLU. Great lady and very powerful mentor for students! I am a big fan of Judge Whitener as I have seen what an impact upon the lives of students she has had. One of our PLU alums just went off to Howard University Law School this fall, inspired by Judge Whitener!”
Working with high school students
I’ve known judges, I’ve been before judges as an expert witness and a juror, but mostly what I know about judges I learned from watching Louis Stone as Judge Hardy in the classic Andy Hardy films from the 30s and 40s. It always came down to integrity and doing the right thing. I still believe that’s always the best way to go. I don’t know much about state supreme courts, but then most people are probably in the same boat. Here is what Helen has to say about her work as a Washington State Supreme Court Justice.
Introduction to the workings of our supreme court
We had a marvelous time with Lynn and Helen. Justice Whitener is a friendly, and thoughtful person who communicates easily. We loved the way she explained things about the law . . . and we look forward to next time having some Trinidadian home cooking.