Emily Miller Rody, a lawyer who was called "an unsung hero of the civil rights and women's movement" during a time when few women went to law school, died June 29 at her Baltimore home of a stroke. She was 86.
Born in Baltimore in 1929, Mrs. Rody developed a passion for fighting for equality at a young age, her daughter Annie Rody-Wright said.
"When she was 14 or 15, she took a city bus and when the bus driver told her to move up to the front of the bus from the back, she said 'No, I'm fine where I am,'" Ms. Rody-Wright said, referencing the time of Jim Crow laws. "Even as a teenager, she was adamant about standing up for the rights of others. She thought everyone was equal and should be treated that way."
She graduated from the University of Maryland, and in 1962, enrolled in law school, already the mother of two. Seven years later, after taking classes intermittently both at night and during the day, she graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law, then the mother of four.
"She had a strong human spirit, she had a big heart, she had a passion for doing what she thought was right," said Kathleen O'Ferrall Friedman, a retired Baltimore circuit judge. "Here she is, raising four kids and still doing significant, challenging legal work."
Mrs. Rody first practiced law with then-United States Attorney for Maryland Stephen Sachs before joining her husband's firm, Rody & Rody. Robert Rody died of complications related to Alzheimer's in 2012.
While Mrs. Rody focused primarily on employment discrimination and family law, Mr. Rody worked on other general practice cases involving everything from tax to patent law. In a 1976 Baltimore Sun article, he said his wife was a good lawyer.
"She is continually thinking up new and interesting ways of looking at things," Mr. Rody said in the article. "It keeps one on one's toes."
She was one of the first members of the Women's Law Center, which advocates expanded women's rights by providing legal assistance to those working to create systemic change.
She was honored by the group's board of directors in 1981 for winning a monetary settlement and improving the working conditions for female employees at Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point plant. While at the WLC, she also successfully represented female prison guards in a case to balance their employment advancement rights with privacy rights of male prisoners.
Baltimore Judge Michel Pierson said he first met Mrs. Rody in the 1970s when they were opposing counsels. He said they later worked on many cases together dealing with prison reform, gender-based discrimination and employment rights.
"Emily had a very deeply ingrained sense of justice and was very interested in fighting for the underdog," he said. "She was in the forefront of lawyers who fought for social reform."
She spent several years working with Carolyn Polowy at Rody & Polowy, before joining the Legal Aid Society of Maryland, a nonprofit law firm that provides free legal services to low-income people statewide, in 1990. She later became the chief attorney of the Baltimore County Legal Aid Bureau, a position she held until she retired in 2009.
"She only retired to take care of our dad, who had Alzheimer's," said her daughter Caroline Rody. "She would have gone on forever."
Even after her retirement, her daughters said, she retained her passion for the law. When they looked through her handbag after her death, they said they found a copy of the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"The most frequent comment I've heard since this happened is that it's unimaginable," Caroline Rody said. "No one could imagine she would die. She was so engaged in life."
Mrs. Rody loved to garden, read and go to the theater. She also took an active interest in all 10 of her grandchildren, her daughters said. In addition to following the Baltimore sports teams, she would follow all the teams her grandchildren liked and send them clippings she found interesting.
Ms. Rody-Wright said she was just as engaged with her and her siblings while they were growing up, even while working as a lawyer.
"She always took our calls," she said. "We'd ask 'Mom, are you busy?' and she'd say, 'It's fine.'"
Ms. Rody-Wright and her family returned from a trip to Uganda on the day Mrs. Rody died. She emailed her mother before taking off to let her know their flight was delayed three hours.
"When I got back to [John F. Kennedy Airport in New York], I had an email from her saying, 'Have a great trip. I'll say the travel prayer for you,'" she said. "She said she wished she was there to greet us, but was with me in spirit. Now that is where she is."
Services were held July 1 at Sol Levinson and Bros. She was a member of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.
In addition to Caroline Rody and Annie Rody-Wright, Mrs. Rody is survived by daughter Elizabeth Rody, son David Rody and 10 grandchildren.