Cruising along a rural Georgian causeway in the late 1980s, Maxine Aldridge White was singing out loud to the country music station dialed up in her rental car, en route to represent the federal government on a Department of Defense contract.
But it wasn’t the song that had White vocal with joy that day, she said, it was a bolt of utter gratitude that struck her, thinking of the numerous people who guided her to that point — from her sharecropper father to mentors throughout the Wisconsin and national legal communities.
“They are sending little old me. Me! I am the voice of the U.S. government on this multi-million-dollar contract. I get to speak,” White remembers thinking. “It was an out-of-body experience almost.”
It’s that perspective, said White, 60, that has kept her even-keeled during her legal career; moving toward opportunities to contribute to the community and advise others.
A few years after that Georgia drive, White was appointed by then-Gov. Tommy Thompson as a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge, where she’s sat on the bench of different divisions ever since.
Her decisions there sometimes make her feel like singing, too, she said, such as when she’s had a positive effect on a child in need, or given advice to a fellow female attorney. Behind those decisions, she said, are lessons of effort and fairness instilled by her second-generation sharecropper parents and what she calls the “deference to the human spirit” that comes into play in matters of justice from Milwaukee civic cases to those she’s witnessed at The Hague.
Those same forces dovetail into White’s involvement with numerous legal advisory boards, mentoring committees and community enrichment organizations.
Her work giving back on the community level is dotted with reminders of the challenges and accomplishments of people before her, such as when she’s worked to interest more minority and woman enrollees at her alma mater, Marquette University, and arranged legal and health clinics for the House of Peace.
White said her contributions in and outside the courtroom are, in part, paying forward all that others have helped her achieve.
“The opportunity to be here was paid for by so many other people,” she said. “So many other people invested so much in me so that I could succeed and reach my goals that I feel it’s a true personal obligation to do the same.”