Pamela L. Reeves
Pamela L. Reeves, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, passed away on September 10, 2020. Even though her 66 years were not nearly long enough, there is comfort in knowing that she didn't waste a minute.
Pam was born in Marion, Virginia, in 1954, to Fred (an avid fisherman) and Betty (an ace quilter and biscuit-maker). She was the oldest of five sisters, each of whom she adored, challenged, occasionally terrorized, and inspired tremendously. Their family lived in a four-room house without running water; Pam had to haul water in from the creek in a bucket. These early hardships didn't put a dent in her love for the mountains where she was born—Grayson County, Virginia, remained her sanctuary for her entire life.
Even so, Pam left the mountains for the University of Tennessee. She was the first member of her family to go to college, although thanks to her influence, encouragement, and cajoling, all of her younger sisters also earned degrees. Pam graduated as a Torchbearer and member of Phi Beta Kappa, and cemented lifelong friendships by riding up and down Cumberland Avenue in a laundry cart.
Pam loved UT so much that she stayed for law school. It was a good thing, too, because that's where she met Charles Swanson. He first saw her while she was circulating a petition to save the snail darter (an endangered fish that she later helped her professor defend in the Supreme Court). Pam and Charles remained close friends and dedicated school party planners for the next 12 years. In 1988, Pam invited Charles to join her on a fateful business trip to New York, where their long smoldering spark burst into flame. Their families are eternally grateful to the Yankees for playing at home that weekend, enticing Charles to join Pam on the trip. Six months later, they were engaged; two weeks later, they were married. In 1990, they had their son Reedy, and in 1992 their daughter Amanda followed. Always a believer that working mothers deserve good child care, Pam immediately recruited family friend Judy Cooper to help manage her (often unmanageable) children.
In her career, Pam was a pioneer at every turn. She blazed a trail as one of the first attorneys in Tennessee to specialize in sexual harassment law. Her work took her all over the state with such frequency that as a child, Amanda named her stuffed lamb "TrialAgain," after the reason Pam so often had to travel. Her peers quickly recognized her leadership, culminating in her selection as the first female president of the Tennessee Bar Association. Following years of successful practice as an advocate, Pam co-founded a full-time mediation firm—one of the first of its kind in the state.
Her accomplishments attracted national attention: In 2013, President Barack Obama nominated Pam to be the first female federal judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee. She was confirmed unanimously by the Senate the following spring. At her investiture, she pledged that she would "work hard each and every day to do what she genuinely believed was the right thing." Not even cancer stopped her from making good on that promise—three months after she was diagnosed, she became the first woman to serve as Chief Judge.
All of Pam's professional accolades won't fit in this space, and can be found elsewhere. Just as important to those who love her are her other accomplishments. She made perfect sausage gravy and the best deviled eggs. She had an unparalleled mastery of the conspiratorial wink and the wry smile. She traveled the world without ever losing her sense of wonder for her own backyard. She believed in people so fiercely that it could knock them down, but she was always the first to pick them back up. She loved as much as she was loved, which was probably her most incredible accomplishment of all.
She is survived by her husband Charles; her son Reedy (Jeremy); her daughter Amanda; her sisters Loretta (Bob), Angela (Jim), Rhonda (Philip), and Sandra Dee (Martin); her cousin Freda; her sister-in-law Sandra; her nieces Sara, Olivia, and Julie (Laura); her nephew Michael (Jessica); an enormous chosen family; and an astonishing array of houseplants.
A celebration of her life will be held when it is safe to hug as much as Pam would have wanted. In the meantime, in lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to the University of Tennessee College of Law and the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum.
Published in Knoxville News Sentinel from Sep. 11 to Sep. 13, 2020.