The law was a second career for Alice Kathleen Tomlinson, but she quickly rose from being a Nassau Legal Aid lawyer to a private firm partner and then to her role as a federal magistrate judge after attending law school at night while working at Long Island University.
Starting in 2006, she handled cases during her 15 years on the bench in New York's Eastern District that ranged widely, including criminal matters involving terrorism, corruption and corporate fraud along with civil litigation. But it was her participation in naturalization ceremonies, where U.S. Magistrate Judge A. Kathleen Tomlinson swore in immigrants as American citizens, that colleagues said she valued the most.
In 2019, she presided over such a ceremony at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay as 63 people became naturalized U.S. citizens during an event that recognized the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote a year later after 36 states ratified it.
"We have our own mini-United Nations here with all the gifts and talents that you’ve each brought to enrich the great fabric of this place we call America," Tomlinson said at the site President Theodore Roosevelt once called home.
On Sunday, Tomlinson died at age 73 after a long battle with cancer. The Suffolk County resident had kept a full court caseload until then. Just four days earlier, she took part as a panelist in a virtual class for the Federal Bar Association's continuing legal education.
"She was a remarkably strong human being. She lived for others, not herself," said Eastern District U.S. Magistrate Judge James Wicks.
He was a friend of Tomlinson’s for three decades, including when they clerked for the late U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt before both became partners at Uniondale law firm Farrell Fritz P.C. on the same day in 1998.
Tomlinson ran the law firm's labor and employment practice and headed its pro-bono work, said Farrell Fritz managing partner Bob Creighton. He said that with a "keen intellect" and "kind heart," Tomlinson "just conveyed goodness" on and off the bench.
Born in Philadelphia and raised in South Jersey, Tomlinson was named after her mother, Alice. But she shortened her first name to the initial and went by "Kathleen" throughout her life, friends and colleagues said.
She earned an undergraduate degree at Rutgers University and then a master’s degree at LIU, where she later served as an assistant dean before graduating from St. John’s University School of Law in 1987.
Later in life, Tomlinson, who was raised as one of six children, reveled in her role as "Aunt Cass" to many nieces and nephews in her family’s extended Irish American clan. She was their chef at Thanksgiving time, when she prepared meals that included individual apple pies for each guest, according to her best friend, Margaret Stolworthy.
She said one of Tomlinson’s other favorite pastimes was presiding over the weddings of family and friends. But when she wasn’t wearing her judge’s robe, Tomlinson served as a eucharistic minister at her church, "could wail" on a golf ball out on the greens and also "made a mean rice pudding" back home in the kitchen, Stolworthy said.
During her professional career, Tomlinson created and produced regional conferences focused on workplace concerns that included multicultural diversity, the "glass ceiling" and violence issues and also frequently lectured on employment matters, according to court officials.
U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert of the Eastern District described Tomlinson in a statement as a "highly revered jurist" who was "forthright" but also "patient and kind." She also said Tomlinson had a "tireless sense of civic duty" and was the first to volunteer for naturalization ceremonies, moot court competitions and bar association presentations.
Tomlinson’s death "has created a void which is deeply felt," one that "is impossible to imagine being filled," Seybert added.
Tomlinson’s wake will be Friday at Nolan Funeral Home Inc. in Northport, with a funeral Mass at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs in Centerport.