Pamela L. Reeves, Chief U.S. District Judge for East TN, dies after cancer battle

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Pamela L. Reeves, Chief U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Tennessee and a trailblazer for women in the legal profession, died Thursday after a two-year battle with cancer.

Reeves was diagnosed with cancer in December 2018 but continued her judicial duties almost without interruption. She became the Chief Judge in April 2019, succeeding U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Varlan.

“Pam Reeves had a lengthy and distinguished career as a lawyer and most recently as Chief Judge of the Eastern District of Tennessee,” U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander said in an emailed statement. “Her diligence and fairness as a lawyer and judge set an example for others, especially for women in the legal profession.

“I admired her and counted her as a friend. Honey and I send our sympathy and respect for her life to her family.”

“Judge Reeves was a good friend, and she’ll be missed,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett. “Not only did she have a remarkable legal and public service career but, as the first female Chief Judge of the Eastern District of Tennessee, she was a trailblazer. Charles and her entire family are in my prayers.”

Reeves was nominated to the judgeship by President Barack Obama on May 16, 2013 and was unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate on March 5, 2014. She began her tenure as an Eastern District judge on March 10, 2014.

Noted by attorney William Vines in the KBA publication DICTA, Reeves was a trailblazer for women in many regards. Not only was she the first female president of the Tennessee Bar Association, she was the first female chair of the Knox County Election Commission, first female president of the American Association of Mediators, first female Article III judge in the Eastern District of Tennessee and the first female Chief Judge of the Eastern District of Tennessee.

“Throughout all those life experiences, all who know her would say she’s one of the sweetest people we know,” Vines added.

Earlier this week, Reeves was honored with the University of Tennessee Distinguished Alumna Award, the highest award given by the university. It recognizes graduates for extraordinary distinction and success in their field and whose achievement brought credit to the university and benefit to the community.

She was honored by the Tennessee Bar Association in 2019 with the Judicial Excellence Award, a rarely-given honor by the organization. She also received the first-ever Professionalism Award from the Tennessee Bar Association.

“I am almost at a loss for words. Danni and I have lost a dear firend, and IU have lost a valued college. Pam’s contribution to the legal profession and our community was immense, and her service ot the Eastern District as a judge and as a chief judge was invaluable. Her courageous battle with cancer was a testament to her character and positive attitude, and she will be sorely missed by so many. Danni and I extend our deepest condolences to her husband Charles and her children, Reedy and Amanda. I am so thankful for the opportunity to have known Pam for so many years to have worked alongside her as a fellow district judge in Knoxville. I will value that time and relationship so much going forward.”

U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Varlan

Judge Reeves was the oldest of five sisters, growing up in a four-room house in Grayson County, Virginia. With no running water in the home until she was 10 years old, a release from the U.S. District Court said she would recall memories of retrieving water for the household from a nearby creek.

Reeves received her undergraduate degree in history from the University of Tennessee and her law degree from the UT College of Law in 1976. She was the first in her family to attend college. Her four sisters are also college graduates.

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