COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s legal community mourned Wednesday for Circuit Judge Tanya Gee, who has died after a battle with cancer. She was 39.
Gee’s husband announced her death in a message to the family’s supporters early Wednesday. She had been diagnosed with cancer in 2013.
Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and a graduate of Winthrop University, Gee earned a law degree from the University of South Carolina where she received some of its highest alumni and student honors. That included the Claude Sapp Award, chosen by her classmates “as possessing the best combination of scholarship, leadership and industry,” according to her obituary.
Gee was elected to the bench in 2015. For years, she had served as chief staff attorney and clerk of court for the South Carolina Court of Appeals. She also clerked for several judges and did civil litigation and appellate work in private practice with Nexsen Pruet.
Gee’s community involvement started in college, when she became involved with a local homeless shelter. In law school, she served as president of both the Pro Bono Board and the Public Interest Law Society.
Marti Bluestein, a fellow Columbia lawyer and one of Gee’s neighbors and close friends, said the judge was notable in her ability to relate to people from all walks of life.
“She could be in the room with someone who didn’t have a high school degree, and she could be in a room with someone who had argued at the U.S. Supreme Court, and she would treat them both well,” Bluestein said. “She wanted to do the right thing by people, and she did it.”
Supreme Court Justice John Few, who worked with Gee for several years at the Court of Appeals, said Wednesday that her ability translated directly into her work as a judge. Few recalled how Gee, who had walked with a cane due to repeated cancer surgeries, once left the bench to retrieve a sweater for a defendant who was shivering in her courtroom.
To others, that defendant “could have been just a number, but Tanya treated her with dignity,” he said. “She had a real sense of justice.”
Bluestein, a mother of two daughters, said she couldn’t have picked a better role model for them than Gee.
“She’s the kind of person you can say, ‘This is the kind of person I want you to grow up and be,'” Bluestein said.
In addition to her husband, Gee leaves behind two young children. Services are scheduled for Oct. 5 at Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia.
In an email to friends this week, Gee announced she was discontinuing treatment, transitioning to hospice care, and had accepted her eventual death with a sense of calm.
“We all die, right?” Gee wrote. “I hate that I’m leaving the party early, but am awed by being on the brink of taking the next step, which we all should be looking forward to.”