Friends of a Chapman University law professor who died after falling from a parking structure last week remembered her as a legal ally to supporters of same-sex marriage.
Mary “Katherine” Baird Darmer was one of the founding members and served as the legal chairwoman of the Orange County Equality Coalition, providing legal counsel to those working to repeal Proposition 8.
Darmer, who lived in Newport Beach, fell from a parking structure in the 19000 block of MacArthur Boulevard in Irvine on Friday. She died at Western Medical Center in Santa Ana about an hour later.
Her death is being investigated as a suicide. She was 47.
Darmer, who worked as a full-time faculty member at Chapman since 2000, was an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan before moving to Newport with her husband, Roman, according to a wedding announcement published in The New York Times. She was a mother of two children, ages 8 and 11.
In addition to being a devoted activist, Darmer was passionate about being a good mother, friend and neighbor, said Janine Helman, who lives nearby.
“She was always the first to volunteer for our neighborhood’s swim team, in her children’s classroom and in their numerous activities,” Helman said. “I know one of her favorite things, as was mine, was to join in our monthly ‘Port Stirling’ birthday dinners, where the street moms got together and treated one another to a fun night out.
“We had a joke on our street that Katherine was truly the most interesting person we had ever met. There is no doubt that was true.”
A graduate of Princeton University and Columbia Law School, Darmer’s legal opinions and scholarship was published in numerous journals, according to her entry on Chapman’s website.
Friend Laura Kanter said she remembers that on the day that the coalition was formed, Darmer stood up among the crowd of 100 people to offer her legal expertise on overturning Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage.
“At that time we were in so much pain. [We thought], ‘How can she understand; why would she want to give her time and expertise to us?’” Kanter said. “While we were all reeling from the pain of Prop 8 … she knew long before and throughout the entire time that we were already equal, and those rights were fundamentally ours.
“We all deserved those rights, and she knew that. It was so intrinsic to her. And that’s what she represented to me.”
Kanter remembered Darmer’s last Facebook status update rejoicing at the news of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that banning gay marriage was unconstitutional.
“Gratified by today’s ruling in the Prop 8 case!” she posted Feb. 7.
Felicity Figueroa, a friend and political ally, said Darmer’s interest in justice wasn’t reserved for any one community.
“Her quest to right the wrongs of society wasn’t only directed toward the LBGT community,” Figueroa said. “Katherine was the embodiment of the Martin Luther King statement, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’”
Iraq veteran Dan Choi, who was discharged from the Army under “don’t ask, don’t tell”, said Darmer was one of the first people to reach out to him after he announced on “The Rachel Maddow Show” that he was gay.
She “always fought right alongside us in the battle [for gay rights],” he said. “We must not be closeted about the larger fight, either — to look after each other, raise the uncomfortable issues of depression, isolation or stress. Her tragic death makes us pause and remember her life’s work, how she was always fighting on behalf of others.”
Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at St. Mark Presbyterian Church, 2200 San Joaquin Hills Road, Newport Beach. A reception will immediately follow the services at the church’s Fellowship Hall.