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Woman of the Year: Virginia L. Fry

Fry, Virginia meeting

Virginia Fry, center, enjoys a lunch meeting with members of Husch Blackwell’s Springfield office. Sitting next to Fry are, at back, office administrator Teri Pearman and, at right, Chuck Greene. Photo by Karen Elshout

One would expect Missouri Lawyers Weekly’s Woman of the Year to be a towering intellect, a fierce litigator, an example for female attorneys and the perfect picture of leaning in. And Virginia Fry is all of those things, but don’t ask her to say that.

In her words?

“It just worked out that way.”

Fry’s friends and colleagues paint an image of an exemplary attorney and a leader of women in the legal community, a reputation that was probably not the result of happenstance.

“It’s her hard work,” longtime friend and Missouri Court of Appeals Judge Nancy Steffen Rahmeyer said of Fry. Rahmeyer, a 2010 honoree of the Women’s Justice Awards, sat on this year’s selection committee.

Fry grew up on a dairy farm in Mountain Grove, a south central Missouri town with a population of less than 5,000. The plan was always to be an attorney, she said.

Fry attended Missouri State University in Springfield, where she received a bachelor’s degree in finance. She graduated summa cum laude with enough graduate-level courses that it wouldn’t be too much extra work to go ahead and receive an advanced degree. She ended up with a master’s of business administration because, well, it just worked out that way.

She attended the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. It was during law school that she met her husband, John Pratt. Fry was still a student, assisting on a criminal case. Pratt was the attorney for her client’s co-defendant. Fry and Pratt have two children. Their son, Brennan Pratt, is an associate at his father’s firm of Pratt, Jensen & Grisham in Springfield. Their daughter, Jordan Goth, is an accountant in Texas.

Fry had thought there would be more job opportunities in Kansas City than in other cities. She was interested in taxation and finance; she thought that she “wanted to have more of a transactional practice.”

But as a young associate at Woolsey Fisher, a southwest Missouri firm, she ended up on a litigation case, which she won. Another one followed, and then another.

“I enjoyed it and there was no reason to change a thing,” she said.

Fry became an attorney who practices almost solely in litigation, because it just worked out that way. After Woosley Fisher disbanded, she ended up with Blackwell Sanders as an equity partner. She stayed on with the firm through the merger that created megafirm Husch Blackwell.

She was Husch Blackwell’s second managing partner in Springfield after the merger. After her predecessor stepped out of the position, it just worked out that way.  She left the post in January, saying her schedule just wasn’t conducive to maintaining the position, and she felt that it was time for a younger attorney to get that experience.

Fry is “a lawyer’s lawyer,” Rahmeyer said. She has a knack for attracting and keeping clients and bringing along young talent.

“She has good common sense and she is liked by her clients,” Rahmeyer said. “She isn’t someone who plays fast and loose with the law.”

And that is how Fry made her mark in the legal world, both as an attorney and as a woman. For Fry, those things are one and the same. Fry is a wife and a mother, roles that are on her mind as she practices law and fulfills her position as partner in the healthcare, life sciences and education practice at Husch Blackwell’s Springfield office.

“I try to balance. You cannot practice law in a vacuum,” she said.

Often parents who have children are no longer viewed as professionals but as caregivers, Fry said. Without the aid of long hours, the option becomes to work harder and smarter, she said. She tries to impress this upon the young attorneys she oversees at Husch, men and women alike.

“As someone with a small child, I really appreciate having her as a sounding board and as an example of someone who has successfully balanced practicing law and raising children,” said Ginger K. Gooch, a fellow partner at Husch.

Rahmeyer said Fry’s position is unique in Springfield. Although there are female attorneys in the southwestern Missouri city, there are few occupying leadership roles in the courts or local legal associations. Fry, in her own quiet way, has been instrumental in bucking those traditional power divisions. It was Fry, with her calm demeanor and clout, who started to turn the tide for women in that community, Rahmeyer said.

In 1994 Fry was named the first female president of the Springfield Metropolitan Bar Association, a role left to men since 1903. Only two women have occupied the position since Fry, according to information on SMBA’s website.

There have been cursory meetings to start a women’s bar association in Springfield. Fry attended one of the first meetings, bringing with her other female professionals from Husch. She had Husch sponsor the second meeting of the fledgling organization. Rahmeyer said Fry could make the difference between the organization’s getting off the ground or not.

“My sense is that, for her, it is about helping young attorneys, male and female, learn and grow and gain important experience early on so they come to love and value the profession as much as she does,” Gooch said.

Rahmeyer agreed, saying that it is not in Fry’s nature to self-promote either for herself or for her cause. Rather, Fry puts her attention on doing good work for her clients, and setting an excellent example as a role model for women and working parents in law.

“This is no feather in her cap,” Rahmeyer said. “She is doing what she wants to do, and that is practice good law.”

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