Feisty and fearless, Marian Mayer Berkett fought government corruption as a law student and forged a path for other women in the legal profession.
The last surviving member of Tulane Law School’s famed Class of 1937 and Louisiana’s oldest attorney, Berkett died June 4, 2017, at age 104. But she leaves an indelible legacy at Tulane and throughout the state.
“Marian Mayer Berkett was a singular figure and inspired generations of lawyers to look past barriers in their quest for excellence,” Dean David Meyer said. “She personified the very best of Tulane Law School.”
A Baton Rouge native, Berkett graduated first in her Tulane Law class then became the first woman hired by a Louisiana law firm. She spent more than 70 years at the firm now known as Deutsch Kerrigan, practicing surety law, construction law, probate, tax and air law. Meyer said she built “a legendary career as one of the South’s most accomplished and formidable lawyers.”
But even before that, she was making history collaborating with law classmates including Hale Boggs, Moise Steeg Jr. and James Coleman Sr. to form the People's League, which opposed then-Sen. Huey Long and worked for state and local government reform.
Over the decades, Berkett stayed committed to Tulane Law and its students, offering advice and encouragement. Among those she mentored was Professor Ron Scalise (L ’00).
“As a young law student, I was incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Marian in my very first summer clerkship,” Scalise said. “Although it was a daunting experience to work with such a legendary figure, I am privileged to have had the opportunity to learn at an early stage from one of the very best lawyers in the Louisiana legal community. Today, in many of my civil law classes, I teach some of the very cases that she litigated.”
In 2013, Tulane Law helped Berkett celebrate her 100th birthday during a luncheon honoring her among the inaugural inductees into the Tulane Law School Hall of Fame. She also spoke to the graduating class that year, telling them they could find their way, even in a challenging economy, just as she had in the years after the Great Depression.
“It will require your ingenuity and your determination, whether you attack your problems as a group or each with a plan of his own,” she said. “So, be brave. Good luck!”
Shortly after turning 103, she turned out for the Tulane Law Review centennial celebration in April 2016, accepting the journal’s Aluma of the Year award.
Every year, hundreds of people gather for receptions and other special events in John Giffen Weinmann Hall’s Marian Mayer Berkett Multipurpose Room, and she would delight attendees on the occasions she was among them.
When Professor Amy Gajda was formally invested as the Class of 1937 Professor of Law in December 2016, she paid tribute and thanks to Berkett for “pav[ing] the way for women like me who want to be lawyers.”
Meyer said Berkett “will continue to be an inspiration for generations of Tulane lawyers yet to come.”