Adjusting to recent retirement after more than three decades of donning the black robe —including more than a quarter-century with the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District — admittedly remains a work in progress for Mary Kathryn Hoff.
“It’s hard to believe, after 32 years as a judge, that I’m no longer going to the office,” said Hoff, who stepped down as the appellate district’s chief judge in early July. “It really hasn’t been very long yet, so I it still feels a little bit like being on vacation right now.”
A native St. Louisan, Hoff earned a University of Missouri education degree and spent a year teaching social studies in rural mid-Missouri before returning to Mizzou for law school. She came home to complete her law degree at Saint Louis University, joining the city public defender’s office in fall 1978. At the time, she notes, there were no female circuit judges on the city bench.
Hoff worked as an assistant public defender for four years, followed by seven years in private practice, before then-Gov. John Ashcroft appointed her, at age 36, as a circuit judge in 1989. Six years later, she was elevated to the appellate bench by the late Gov. Mel Carnahan — a pair of bipartisan appointments she says points to the strength of Missouri’s nonpartisan court plan.
Prior to her judicial appointment, Hoff served as president of the Women Lawyers’ Association of Greater St. Louis, where her advocacy efforts helped lead to the first female appointees to Missouri appellate courts, including the state Supreme Court.
By 2018, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 29 percent of the state’s judges were female — a rate consistent with the national average of 30 percent, but still well below the 51 percent majority of state residents who are female.
Hoff, who left the bench several years shy of the mandatory retirement age of 70, is quick to credit others for her legal longevity.
“I was very lucky to have been mentored by many judges on the city bench, and even further blessed to have such outstanding colleagues and friends on the Court of Appeals,” she said.
With adult children in Denver and Detroit and five brothers (among seven siblings) scattered across the country, Hoff hopes to spend more time traveling to visit friends and family. Husband Peter Stragand, a lawyer-turned-social-studies teacher, is retired from Kirkwood High School, where he continues to coach the mock trial team.
Hoff’s retirement aligns with the completion of her second term as chief judge earlier in the summer; she had previously served in that role in 2000-01.
“I’m really one of the luckiest people around, to have spent the majority of my career in the Missouri judiciary,” Hoff said. “We have excellent judges in the courts, and I know I’m leaving our courts in good hands.”