Mary Jo Peters: 35 Years of Service to the District of Oregon

By Gosia Fonberg

Mary Jo Peters made Portland’s federal courthouses brighter places for over 35 years until her retirement on February 28, 2018. An Oregon native, Mary Jo was born in Gresham. Her paternal grandfather immigrated to Oregon from Germany in 1906 when he was 19 years old to work for his uncle in the brickmaking business. Her grandfather then built the Columbia Brick Works plant in Gresham, and her father and his three brothers continued the family business until it was sold in 1973. Mary Jo grew up in one of the houses within the 80-acre Gresham plant. The company made the bricks that built many of the buildings in downtown Portland, including the former Lotus Café across the street from the Hatfield Courthouse.

When she was a high school senior, Mary Jo did an internship as a legal secretary in a Portland law office for school credit. She caught a city bus in the late morning from Gresham High School to downtown Portland (a 45-minute ride). When she graduated, the firm offered her a job. She accepted and went on to work for various private law firms over the next seven years, including a stint at the then-named Miller Nash Yerke & Wiener LLP. Ironically, her future boss Judge Michael Mosman began his Portland legal career at Miller Nash, but Mary Jo’s time there did not overlap with his.

Judge Solomon’s Chambers

Mary Jo Peters and Judge Gus Solomon. Photos courtesy of Mary Jo Peters.

She left the private legal world for the federal courts in 1982 at the urging of her friend, Pam Lohrie, who worked for the Clerk of Court and later became the director of human resources. Judge Gus Solomon’s long-time judicial assistant retired in 1980, and Judge Solomon refused to replace her. Instead, he would ask Clerk’s Office staff to help him out. Since Judge Solomon (and nearly everyone else in the legal community at that time) relied heavily on secretarial help, it turned out to be a lot of filling in. The clerk finally convinced Judge Solomon to hire a judicial assistant, and Pam asked Mary Jo if she wanted to come in for an interview. Judge Solomon met with Mary Jo and hired her on the spot. The two got along well (even though Mary Jo was convinced he didn’t remember her name). Judge Solomon and his wife Libby attended Mary Jo’s wedding, much to the delight of the star-struck state court judge who kept reminding everyone Judge Solomon was in the audience and could barely perform the wedding!

Mary Jo remembers the chambers lunches Judge Solomon hosted every month or so for all the other judges. It was quite an event. Libby Solomon would bring in homemade Jewish dishes, including matzo ball soup, and Mary Jo and the judge’s law clerks spent hours setting up, serving food, and washing dishes. Mary Jo worked for Judge Solomon for four-and-a-half years until he passed away in February 1987. [Please click below to continue to page 2]