By KEVIN CHIRI
Tammany West news
SLIDELL –It sounded like simple advice from a mother to her daughter.
“You can do anything you want in this world, if you are willing to work hard enough for it,” Patricia Hedges remembers her mother saying.
Those words of wisdom from a true Southern woman from Atlanta, Ga., affectionately called “Miss Beulah,” guided Hedges from an early time in her life.
And throughout the years that brought her to St. Tammany Parish 40 years ago, Hedges has lived with that motto—leading her to become a lawyer in her 40s after her children were grown, leading her to become the first female judge in the history of the 22nd Judicial Court, and now leading her to travel the world, taking her to all seven continents.
“My mother certainly was a strong influence in my life,” Hedges said, enjoying retirement from her Slidell home these days.
Hedges recalls her mother getting a job with the federal government in a textile factory during World War II, working as an inspector of uniforms in a time most women stayed home with the children.
“She was a woman who was ahead of her time, working outside the home most of her life,” Hedges added. “She lived to be 94, and the week before she died she still talked about wanting to go to work again.”
For Hedges, her mother’s strong motivation, and her father’s “leveling influence,” combined to make her a confident woman who focused on raising her children first, then seeking opportunities to make a difference in the world around her.
“Much of what I did in this life revolved around the fact I loved to learn,” she said. “Even before I traveled to Turkey I got a 12-disc set of tapes about Paul and what he did in that country. I wanted to know about it so I could appreciate the trip.”
After getting married in 1956 during her college years, she followed her husband around the country to various locations where he was working as a civil engineer. As the couple had two daughters and a son, Hedges focused on raising the children as a stay-at-home mom.
But she said most cities where they lived gave her the opportunity to start taking college courses, and she took full advantage by slowly building her hours to earn an English degree, followed by more classes that had her on the verge of a Masters Degree.
“I was considering a Masters in English, but I had always viewed law as a profession where I could do something that mattered,” she said. “I was like many others who wanted to change the world, so I decided to become a lawyer.”
As her husband continued to move around the country, a new company brought them to New Orleans in 1985, quickly followed by a move to Slidell “because my husband had always promised the kids we could live in the country on a farm.”
Hedges followed her goal with her law degree, serving as the president of the Public Interest Law Forum while in school, then taking her first job after graduating from Tulane when she worked for ACORN, representing state employees who had been reprimanded while on their jobs.
She moved into private practice in 1986 with a Slidell law firm and focused on family law, while also clerking for 22nd Judicial District Judge Clayton James, which got her thinking about a run for the court.
“There had never been a woman on the 22nd District court and I thought there needed to be balance that would come from a female,” Hedges said. “Working with Judge James taught me so much—he was a great mentor. But being close to the court, I thought a woman was needed since it would bring a different perspective.”
Hedges took her first run at the court in 1990 when she was one of five running for a 22nd Judicial seat. She lost in that election, but tried again in 1995 to fill the unexpired term of Brad Fitzsimmons. This time she was victorious, becoming the first female judge in the history of the court, and from that point on, was never defeated in another election until she retired in 2009.
“I look at the years I was a judge and have no regrets,” she said. “I do feel I made a difference in the lives of many children, and even for the adults I sentenced, I get Christmas cards from some of them who are in jail.
“I was never a ‘throw them in jail and leave them’ kind of judge,” Hedges said. “Of course there are some cases where your hands are tied due to mandatory sentencing guidelines, but for me, rehabilitation is so needed.”
Her days of learning have never stopped—only changed to become an education of the world. She has traveled to seven continents, and gone to more countries than she can count.
“I love to go to countries where the stories of the world come from, or where there have been historical events,” she said. “I love going to where the stories of the Bible come from. Some of my favorite places have been the Gallapagos Islands, South Africa, Morocco and Antarctica, and right now I’m really looking forward to a trip to Mt. Ararat.”
She said the culture and people of other countries are fascinating and she has no plans to slow down, even though she dealt with an illness several years ago that she “does not talk about,” and she is now into her retirement years, finding many ways to enjoy life even though Charlie, her husband of 49 years, passed away in 2005.
“I told my two grandchildren that when they graduated from junior high, I would take them anywhere in the world they wanted to go,” she said. “Sarah and I went to Venice, Italy, and then Tommy and I went to Greece.”
She has always been involved in giving back to the community through civic organizations, starting in cities her husband was transferred to, and remaining active in St. Tammany Parish non-profits since moving here.
Among the top awards Hedges received were the Nike Award by the Louisiana Federation of Business and Professional Women, the Athena Award through the Slidell Chamber, the Superior Leadership Award by the Slidell Republican Women’s Club, the Woman of Achievement Award from the Business and Professional Women of Louisiana and the Church Council Chair Leadership Award from the First United Methodist Church of Slidell.
As she prepares for her next trip overseas, Hedges said she had one word to sum up her life: “Marvelous.”
While she still speaks highly about the influence of her own mother in her life, Hedges has become a woman in St. Tammany Parish who now sets the example for others–something her own mother would undoubtedly be proud of.