By ReShonda Tate

The Caregivers is a unique series focused on the challenges and triumphs of caregiving. These stories have been created through a strategic partnership between AARP and Word In Black.

Judge Vanessa Gilmore

The legal trailblazer made history when she was appointed to the federal bench in 1994. Now she’s looking forward to enjoying retirement, focusing on her health, and new life adventures.

After 27 years, judge Vanessa Gilmore is stepping down on Jan 2, 2022.

While Gilmore has made history in the legal field, that wasn’t her first passion. At age 16, she headed to Hampton University, where she planned to study fashion. After graduating, she worked as a buyer for Foley’s in downtown Houston. Then an inside job apartment burglary changed everything. She filed a lawsuit and was instantly bitten by the legal bug. 

Gilmore talked with the Defender about her time on the bench, and what lies ahead. 

As you reflect over your years on the bench, how would you sum up your career?

It’s a job that I would’ve never picked for myself, but it was divinely meant for me. I didn’t really think I wanted to be a judge. I sort of got volun-told that I was going to be a judge. But you know how to make God laugh? You tell him your plans. It turned out to be the job that really suits my personality in ways that I would not have envisioned. And it gives you a chance to appeal to both sides of your personality: The A-type personality that wants to have a big, hard charging job, like a lawyer; but the side of your personality that wants to feel like you’re doing something for the community as well.

What’s next for you?

I’m going from having one job to having about five jobs. Leaving the bench kind of unshackled me in a way from a lot of things that I wasn’t able to do fully before because of a lot of restrictions that I had.

Retirement is going to give me an opportunity to expand some of what I already do, but do some other things as well. For instance, I’m going to start doing some mediation and arbitration work for a non-profit organization. I’ll do that part-time. This part of my life is about exploring things that I want to continue to do. I’m interviewing for and continuing to look for some opportunities to be on corporate boards. And so what I’ve realized is that I have a whole lot of experience and a background that lends itself to working in that space and that people see that there’s some value that can be added from the kinds of things that I’ve had to do as a judge over the last 27 years. 

You’re opening a tea room. Where did that idea come from?

I’m sort of known for having these teas in my chambers every week. It’s like my little thing that I do because nobody ever comes to visit federal judges. I decided that I was going to open a tea room called Tea with Judge V on Riverside Drive, right off of N. McGregor, in a new bed-and-breakfast that’s opening over there, called the Hotel King David. I’m having a pop-up for it in December, but it opens officially in September of 2022. It’ll be fun. It’ll be a way to get together with people.

Part of healthy living is doing more of what makes you happy. For you, that’s golfing, right? 

Yes, I’m much more active right now in the LPGA amateurs. So I want to go ahead and get my golf game together better. 

How have you managed to take care of yourself health wise? 

Well, I will be honest, I’ve had some health challenges over the last couple of years. My back just went out on me, and interestingly, I had my spine fused on March 12th, 2020, three days before the pandemic. The pandemic gave me a whole year of being able to concentrate on my health in a way that, I realized now that I’m back at work full-time, I would not have been able to do. 

What that taught me is that even when you get back into a really busy work schedule, you have to prioritize your health and you have to prioritize working out, and make sure that you do it every day. Just like you brush your teeth. Just like you take a bath, that 20-30 minutes of walking or 20-30 minutes on a stationary bicycle is as important to your health as anything else. And I’ve realized that that is something that I have to incorporate it into my daily life going forward every single day. And it’s helped me a lot. 

You’ve been vocal about your support of AARP. What about the organization inspires you? 

They send these newsletters and magazines and they are actually very helpful. It gives you things to think about. Some of it may be stuff that you’ve already done or already thought about, but sometimes it’s things that really hadn’t occurred to you, like what not to put in your will, and different little tips and things about retirement planning. They have some good stuff in there.