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Dynamic Duo: Preston, Cathy Dean Leave Law Legacy

Cathy Dean

Cathy Dean, BA '70, JD '82

The law careers of Cathy Dean, BA '70, JD '82, and her late husband Kenneth Preston Dean, BA '68, JD '71, spanned nearly 40 years and left an indelible mark on the legal landscape of Kansas City, the state of Missouri and the Midwest region.

Neither could have predicted their success or, for Cathy, whether becoming an attorney was even a possibility. Cathy said she did not know why Preston decided on a law career, except that he seemed to always know that's what he wanted. She said, "He would tell people he ended up a lawyer because he couldn't be a cowboy and that he couldn't be a fireman because he couldn't get dressed fast enough."

For Cathy, the decision wasn't as easy. She taught school early in their marriage while Preston finished law school. Cathy said that Preston finally tired of her constant complaining about poor teacher pay. One day he brought home a book on preparing for the Law School Admission Test. "He said either you go to law school or quit complaining," Cathy said.

Cathy grew up in Fulton, Mo. and Preston was from Mexico, Mo. The two met at a mid-Missouri church camp when they were children. Preston and Cathy dated a few times in high school, then reconnected at MU. They dated regularly through college and married in August 1970, after she graduated from MU.

Cathy spent the first few years of their marriage teaching in Fulton, then moved to Jefferson City where Preston went to work for the Missouri attorney general's office. He served as an assistant attorney general for Missouri Attorney General Jack Danforth, and his successor Attorney General John Ashcroft from 1971 to 1982.

Preston and Cathy Dean with Clarence Thomas

Preston Dean, right, talks to Clarence Thomas as Cathy Dean looks on.

When Cathy finished Law School, the Deans moved to Kansas City where Cathy took a job clerking for the late U.S. District Judge D. Brook Bartlett. In 1985, Cathy joined the law firm of Polsinelli Shalton Flanigan Suelthaus, where she headed up the litigation department until her retirement in 2013.

After a stint with a private firm, Preston became an assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri. In 1989, Preston was appointed judge of the Jackson County Circuit Court serving until retirement in 2006. Preston passed away in 2011 after an extended illness.

When asked to comment on how she wants people to remember Preston, she said, "Preston was a teacher. He taught a lot of people. So many attorneys in the community have said that." She recalled that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas once worked for Preston, that Preston was Thomas' first boss and that Thomas spoke of Preston's influence on him.

Cathy said, "(Preston) was very patient and down to earth." People who worked in the court with Preston recalled his humility. Cathy recalled his co-workers said, "When answering the telephone, he would never say 'this is Judge Dean,' he would say 'This is Preston.'"

The Deans established the LSF Preston and Cathy Dean Scholarship Endowment Fund in 2003.

When asked what motivated them to set up their endowment, Cathy said, "People helped us when we were going to school to get an education."

Preston's grandparents founded the Dean Drugstore in Mexico, which his father took over. When Dean was 16, his father was killed in an armed robbery. His mother, Mildred, continued to work at the drugstore and later worked at a radio station raising Preston and his younger sister and putting them both through college. When in law school, Preston got a scholarship that enabled him to keep going. Cathy said, "When the law school dean gave Preston the scholarship, he encouraged Preston to do the same for others someday." After he graduated from law school, he put Cathy through law school as he worked at the Attorney General's office.

Cathy's reasons are even more personal. Early in her teaching career, Cathy asked another teacher who did not have any children, "'What will we do if we do not have children?' Her answer has become one of my mottos: 'We help those who do have children.' For me, this is my way of fulfilling my motto.