From staff and press reports
“If it’s a boy,” Bill Strong announced to the crowded courtroom in Louisville, MS, “I’ll send up black smoke; if it’s a girl, I’ll send up white.” A few hours later, the entire town saw white smoke billowing from the Strong family chimney. This smoke- determined the gender- would come to define Mary Ann Strong Connell’s life in ways no one could have expected.
Neil White, publisher of “An Unforeseen Life,” said, “Readers are going to love this story of loss, faith, tragedy, and perseverance.”
When Connell was eight years old, a fire robbed her of a younger brother. Connell blamed herself for the accident. It set the tone for the remainder of her remarkable life.
On the pages of “An Unforeseen Life,” readers will walk alongside the author as she faced a different kind of firestorm when she became one of the first women lawyers practicing in Oxford, MS> The compelling scenes continue to unfold when Connell convinces the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan that the group cannot march on the Ole Miss campus, when she is called as an adverse witness in the wrongful termination trial of beloved football coach Billy Brewer, and when she shakes a finger, warning “if you don’t get serious, you’ll never succeed at the practice of law” to a first year student named John Grisham. Connell’s drive to defend those least able to stand up to the powerful led to a battle with Oxford’s colorful mayor John Leslie (who took to calling her “The Sewer Queen”) and to embracing clients who paid her with a “sack of coons.”
We witness the character growth of those around her, including her husband who believed in the 1960s that a “woman’s place was the home.” We applaud when she clandestinely enrolls in the Ole Miss Law school, when she attends Harvard Law School for an advanced degree (alongside fellow classmate Barack Obama), and when she is selected as the president of a national association of university attorneys.
“An Unforeseen Life” is a powerful memoir about a woman who embraced opportunity in spite of the facts- a funny, touching account of a life “most richly blessed,” if sometimes in unexpected ways.
Mary Ann Connell practices law with Mayo Mallette, PLLC. She served as university attorney for the University of MS from 1982 to 2003 and as school board attorney for the Oxford School District from 2003-2013. Connell teaches course in higher education law, school law, legal research and writing, business law, and employment law. She is frequent presenter at national, regional, and state conferences on subjects involving higher education and school law. She is a past president of the National Association of College and University Attorneys, past president of the MS Council of School Board Attorneys, and a fellow of the MS Bar Foundation. She received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of College and University Attorneys; the Distinguished Service Award from the Lafayette County Bar Association; the Thomas education community from Stetson University Law School; the NAACP Freedom Award for Outstanding Woman Lawyer in MS Award; the University of MS Chancellor’s Award for outstanding contributions toward increasing diversity; and the Mortar Board National College Senior Honor Society Award for outstanding teacher of the year. She received her LLM from Harvard Law School.