Dr. Edith Kay Kirkpatrick, known to everyone as Kay, comes from a family of public servants and, in her generation, lawyers. Her father served two terms in the Louisiana legislature and was the administrator of the Baton Rouge Hospital. Her mother served on the LSU Board of Supervisors and was among the first appointees to the Louisiana Board of Regents when it was first created in 1977.
Kay and her two brothers are graduates of the LSU Law Center. Her older brother, “Colonel K,” made a 35-year career in the Judge Advocate Corps of the U.S. Army. Her younger brother, Kris, was chief of staff for U.S. Senator Russell B. Long (‘42) until he and the Senator formed a law firm in 1988, where Kris remains today.
Kay received her first degree from LSU in 1968. Her older brother finished LSU Law the same year, and Kay wanted to follow in his footsteps. But prospects for employment were not promising. In 1968, there were a few women in law school, but law firms were not hiring women. So Kay pursued a master’s and then a Ph.D. in speech, which she completed in 1972. By that time, Kay was seeing a few more women actually making a living in law practice, so she enrolled in law school, passing the bar in 1977.
As Kay tested the job market, an opportunity she’d never considered presented itself, and she joined the office of Baton Rouge District Attorney (DA) Ossie Brown (’53). “I really liked it,” she said. “I did a lot of appellate work – researching and arguing appeals to the state Appeals and Supreme Court.” Bryan Bush (’67) became DA in 1984, and she stayed with the office until 1988, when newly elected Louisiana Governor Buddy Roemer’s office came calling. They needed advice on the many criminal cases that were sent to the Governor for review and the general council did not have that type of experience. Kay joined the Governor’s Office, and her work quickly expanded beyond criminal law to matters of environment, public finance, education and the myriad other issues on which the Governor must provide vision and leadership.
“I represented the Governor during legislative session,” she said. “The hearing process may seem tedious, and the voices of constituents may seem like a cacophony. But, it is a good process and it is instructive. I found it endlessly fulfilling.” Kay notes that the balance of politics and governance is seldom easy, and advising decision-makers to take actions with which they might disagree is particularly challenging.
“Start with the law,” Kay says. “Block out the noise from people who want a certain outcome. Focus on the law and how it works in the real world. Understand the full implications of implementation. Be balanced and sensible and truthful. Figure out how it can be made to work to help people. But start with the law.”
The late Richard Ieyoub (’72) was elected Louisiana Attorney General (AG) in 1992, and he chose Kay to be his Deputy. She became head of the Civil Division. In that role she handled intriguing and important work for the State of Louisiana. She recalls with pride collaborating with Delores Spikes, AG Ieyoub, then-Governor Edwin Edwards and later, Governor Mike Foster when the U.S. Department of Justice challenged the organization and governance of Louisiana’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Changes followed. Negotiations resulted in the establishment of cross-campus degree programs providing additional resources to those schools and increased diversity on all campuses. According to Kay, governance structures continued to evolve over the next 20 years, as well. But Kay feels that federal government came away from that engagement somewhat changed, too, with a better understanding of the importance of HBCUs to their alumni and to the students HBCUs see as their primary constituents.
Kay tells about being locked in a room with opposing counsel by Federal Judge Frank Polozola (’65), “until negotiations were concluded.” “It was the longest day of my life,” she said. The matter was a suit against the prison system, and she recalls as particularly satisfying the “smoking gun” found among thousands of pieces of paper delivered during the discovery phase of a suit against Texaco. The oil and gas giant was using the deeply discounted sale price of product to a wholly-owned subsidiary as the price on which it was paying royalties to the State of Louisiana. Many legislators were on Texaco’s side and tried to block the case by reducing the Attorney General’s funding. The tables turned when her team found the memo from an in-house attorney to Texaco management advising that “if Louisiana ever finds out what we’re doing. . . .” As a result, the State of Louisiana received a $500 million settlement payment.
Kay retired in 2010 as General Counsel for the University of Louisiana System. She looks back on a career that was stimulating, challenging, productive and filled with opportunities she never dreamed existed. She knows her worked helped many people – some individuals, but more importantly, the people. She made her gift in the hope that her scholarship recipients would better understand that working in public law is a privilege – a privilege they should pursue with deliberation and dedication. She hopes that they enjoy their careers as much as she enjoyed hers.
About the Scholarship:
This scholarship is available to a student interested in pursuing a career in government or public law. The student may demonstrate that interest by:
- meaningful employment, internship or field placement in a government office prior to or during law school
- successful completion of LAW 6004 or LAW 5410 at the Law Center
- otherwise showing, to the satisfaction of the Scholarship Committee, a significant interest in a public law career
The scholarship may be awarded to a 1L, 2L or 3L and may follow the student for successive years.
The Board of Regents matched this scholarship in June 2023. Each year, the Law Center submits eligible scholarships for match consideration under the Board of Regents Superior Graduate Scholarship program. Applications are reviewed by out-of-state consultants for potential to contribute to Louisiana’s economic development and workforce. The process is highly competitive and Law Center applications consistently score well.