Catherine Virginia “Ginny” Kilgore
Catherine Virginia “Ginny” Kilgore

A Drum Major for Justice


Ginny Kilgore, longtime North Mississippi Rural Legal Services (“NMRLS”) lawyer and elder law expert, advocated for the elderly and the needy in north Mississippi through the law, teaching, and documenting legal history.

Written by Steven White*



Yes, if you want to, say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness.

- Martin Luther King, in his final sermon



Catherine V. ‘Ginny’ Kilgore was an eloquent champion and diligent spokesperson for the poor, the young, the aged, the infirm and all whom North Mississippi Rural Legal Services is charged to serve.

- Resolution Commemorating the Contribution of the Late Honorable Catherine V. “Ginny Kilgore to North Mississippi Rural Legal Services and Its Client Community



Ginny Kilgore’s friends and colleagues were on notice that any outing, whether personal or professional, was subject to an unexpected detour if they happened across a stray animal. At her memorial service last year, longtime NMRLS colleague and friend, Minnie Howard, recalled more than one occasion when they were so sidetracked by Kilgore’s insistence that they stop and help the chance animal—be it a turtle, cat, or dog—even when they were far from home, such as making their way back to Oxford after a trip to meet clients deep in the Mississippi Delta. Kilgore even missed a mutual friend’s wedding because she picked up an ailing cat along the roadside and delivered it to the local animal hospital before ultimately adopting the stray, whom she named T-Bear. Kilgore’s love and compassion for lost and distressed animals represented in microcosm her career-long focus on doing whatever was necessary to represent the kinds of clients that are often overlooked by both government institutions and private practice attorneys.

Catherine Virginia “Ginny” Kilgore, who graduated from the University of Mississippi School of Law in 1975, passed away at the age of 74 on August 9, 2022, following a protracted illness. She practiced law with NMRLS in both Oxford and Batesville, Mississippi for over four decades. Kilgore was also an associate professor at the University of Mississippi Law School, overseeing its Elder Law Clinic and teaching classes focused on the law and the needs of the elderly. She is survived by her loving husband of fifty-three years, Rance Kilgore of Oxford, Mississippi; her sister, Evelyn Nickerson of Gulfport, Mississippi; her brother, Rev. George Purnell of Evansville, Indiana; and her aunt, Gerry Ofield of Rockdale, Texas. She was preceded in death by her parents, Hawes Purnell and Lula Tuma Purnell, and her brother, Rick Purnell.

Published in MISSISSIPPI LAW JOURNAL VOL. 92 (pp. 737-750)

*Steven White is a public finance lawyer based in the Portland, Oregon office of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. He graduated from Loyola University, New Orleans, and Lewis and Clark Law School, Portland, Oregon. Ginny Kilgore was his maternal aunt.