Denver Bar Association
July 2004
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Lawyer, Librarian or Hula-Dancer? Meet Your New Prez

As a child growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, Mary Jo Gross always knew that she wanted to be . . . a librarian.

In fact, after getting her B.A. in Latin with a minor in Education (the latter at her nervous father’s request) at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, she headed out west to earn a Master’s Degree in Library Science at the University of Denver. The whole lawyer thing just kind of happened later. Well, maybe the story isn’t quite that simple, but it’s close.

Mary Jo Gross, chair of the DU College of Law
Alumni Council, with Brian Popp at the DU
Alumni Hockey Game.
After graduation from DU, Mary Jo went to work as a librarian at Machebeuf Catholic high school. After a year, she was in need of some supplemental income. "I went to temp at Fairfield & Woods for four days and left 23 years later." Getting the initial job after a small fib where she said she could operate a Dictaphone, Mary Jo was continually invited back to sub because, as she likes to say, "I could spell." She eventually worked her way up in the firm, opting for DU College of Law over a paralegal education, figuring, "What’s one more year?"

In her early days at Fairfield & Woods, Mary Jo was encouraged to do Bar work and finds it a vital part of being an attorney. She believes in the importance of giving back to the profession and the community, and it appears that this belief will carry over into her term as president. One plan (that we at The Docket love) is to use her presidential space in The Docket for guest columnists to share their experiences with community involvement and philanthropy, to shed light on the various ways people (including attorneys!) give back to the community.

Mary Jo has a number of extracurricular interests, although many have had to take the back seat due to the driven spirit she possesses toward most things she pursues. "I approach everything like work." She played piano for eleven years and won a couple of contests (with hands that barely span an octave), won tennis tournaments in her younger days, played in cribbage competitions (even has a few trophies), won a couple of golf trophies (through the good play of others, she says), has exercised regularly since President Kennedy’s Physical Fitness Program (currently gets up around 4:30 a.m. each day to walk and lift weights), learned Spanish by listening to tapes for a half-hour each day in her car, and . . . well, you get the idea.

Dirk Costin and Mary Jo volunteer at Sr. Law Day.
These days when Mary Jo slows down, she sticks to movies, books and food; her tastes are varied and extensive. She likes most movies except for scary ones; recently she thoroughly enjoyed Mystic River and is looking forward to seeing Troy (that’s what a B.A. in Latin and two years of Greek will to do you).

As for books, when she goes into Tattered Cover for one, she comes out with five, preferring historical novels and biographies. Though she has numerous titles stacked up on her "to read" list, her latest selections have been The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons and Pompeii. She just finished How the Irish Saved Civilization and is currently enjoying Eats, Shoots & Leaves and A Well-Rounded Woman.

Then there’s food. What’s not to like? She can think of three things: iced tea, licorice and cotton candy. Aside from those items, she’s not picky. Mary Jo enjoys cooking and, according to long-time friend Roger Clark, "is famous for her eggnog pie." You can count on her to cook for Thanksgiving and Passover. In fact, if you stop by her place on Passover, you may just hear her singing "Let My People Go"—as Roger says—"loudly, if not always with perfect pitch."

Any bad habits? "I have an addiction to buying books, exercise videos and wide-brimmed hats." Her hat collection spans from her home to her office and even her car—she is rarely without one.

You may have seen her Park Hill home—or at least the yard— in The Post a time or two. "I was at my 25th college reunion and a former classmate came up to me and said, ‘I want to know—are you the same Mary Jo Gross I’ve seen in the newspapers with the xeriscape yard?’" Yep, she was. She’s won several awards for her landscaped grounds. Apparently maintaining a xeriscaped yard—with its many plants, trees and shrubs (no sod)—is a bit more work than anticipated, but clearly Mary Jo is able to keep it above par, despite her strong aversion to yard work and the fact that she has "no idea what’s planted out there anymore."

She feels blessed to be the "aunt" of four wonderful
children in the Denver area, whom she truly considers family (and likewise). Her "first," Kelly—daughter of Loveland attorney Roger Clark—is now grown and a mother herself; her eldest "nephew" is a senior at CU and his sister is in high school and getting ready to drive, and she also has a 12-year-old "niece" who lives in Boulder. Children of her own? Nah, but her plans for the future do include the addition of a dog to her household. "I love dogs, but want to make sure I have the time to commit." (Now that’s a good pet-owner!)

Mary Jo’s current role as Corporate Counsel with United General Title Insurance Company is something she thoroughly enjoys. Describing her work like "figuring out a puzzle," she says she loves problem-solving and transactional work because at the end the clients usually walk away happy—and with something (money or "stuff"). Mary Jo doesn’t see this career path as all that different from that of a librarian’s. "It’s [being a librarian] similar to law. . . . A person needs an answer to a problem, and you have to figure out where to send them, what information is most important, and how to solve the problem." She enjoys the people she’s working with and the wide variety of projects. Bar and civic work is strongly encouraged at United General—good thing!

Her friends describe her as "precise and energetic" and seem to love her happy and humorous spirit. Many of her pals are long-time acquaintances. "I still get together with friends from the YMCA where I exercised 25 years ago."

She may have a new career on the horizon as a hula dancer. Good friend Michael Cohen, father of "niece" Jamie in Boulder, tells a story of Mary Jo’s trip to Hawaii. Apparently she and her sister took hula-dancing classes and Mary Jo became enthralled. Upon their return to the U.S., she and her sister hosted Thanksgiving dinner for Michael and his family, and gave a live performance—complete with music. He describes it as "one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen." Watching the dance was a condition to getting dessert.

Those who know her well see her as an outstanding lawyer and wonderful friend. Says Michael, "I can’t say enough positive things about her. It’s a blessing to have met her. Professionally, everyone knows she’s a great lawyer, but she really is just a good person and it’s wonderful that she’s risen to the position she’s taking on."

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