Evelyne Bradley, one of the Navajo NationÕs first district court judges, died Tuesday at the age of 88.
Evelyne Bradley, one of the Navajo NationÕs first district court judges, died Tuesday at the age of 88. (Courtesy of the Navajo Nation Of)
FARMINGTON — The Navajo Nation's "Mother of Justice" passed away this week.

Evelyne E. Bradley, who served as one of the tribe's first-ever women judges, died Tuesday surrounded by friends and family at Fort Defiance Indian Hospital. She was 88.

Bradley served as a district court judge from 1984 until her retirement in 1995. When she first was appointed as a judge by former Navajo Nation President Peterson Zah, she was 59 years old.

"Apparently, some of the council delegates were giving her a hard time because they saw her white hair," said Evelyne Bradley's daughter, Francine Bradley, a retired police officer. "She said, Don't let this white hair and these wrinkles fool you.'"

Evelyne Bradley served with the Ramah, Tuba City and Kayenta judicial districts in Arizona. She also served as acting chief justice from 1984 to 1985. After retirement, she was elected to the justice of the peace position for Navajo County in Kayenta, Ariz.

"She was always firm. She always followed law, but she also treated the people like their mother," her daughter said. "She was mean but loving."

That was partially because before the late Bradley was a judge, she had endured her own trials in life.

"She wasn't ashamed that she had a rough life. Once defendants heard that, their ears popped up," said Lavonne Yazzie, a court administrator in Kayenta who once worked with Bradley.

Evelyne Bradley was born March 1, 1925, in Fort Defiance, Ariz., at the same hospital where she died. She grew up in Cross Canyon, Ariz., just outside of Ganado, Ariz. Her clan was Bitter Water born for Towering House. Her maternal grandparents' clan was Cliff Dwellers People, and her paternal grandparents' clan was Red House People.

As a child, she grew up with her sister under the supervision of a single mother, who was a nurse at Good Shepherd Mission in Fort Defiance. The mission was a federal Indian boarding school, a hospital and an orphanage.

It was there that she came down with tuberculosis and nearly died. However, she regained health and went on to attend North Phoenix High School. She graduated in 1947 from the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kan.

Despite her successes, Evelyne Bradley struggled with alcoholism in her 20s and 30s, her daughter recalled.

In the 1970s, one of her sons died after he was involved in a car accident while drunken driving. It was then that Evelyne Bradley realized she wanted to turn her own life around.

"The trials and tribulations of life, she always appreciated them," her daughter said.

And Evelyne Bradley shared those tough life lessons in the courtroom.

Yazzie, her former co-worker, recalled that the late judge often told defendants that they, too, could turn their lives around.

"She used to tell defendants, You know, I know what it's like to be down and out,'" Yazzie said.

Evelyne Bradley studied law at home so she could become a Navajo Nation law advocate, which requires one to pass the state bar exam. She passed the exam and then worked her way up from a secretary for the tribe's former chairman, Sam Ahkeah. From there, she became personnel director and then judge.

"She was an elderly woman when she came on as a judge," said Karen Francis, government relations officer for the Navajo Nation Office of the Chief Justice.

At the time, she was one of two female district court judges with the tribe. Now, eight of the 14 district court judges are women. There is also an associate justice who is a woman, Francis said.

A funeral service for Evelyne Bradley was held Friday at the Good Shepherd Mission in Fort Defiance, where Bradley was a boarding school student.

Evelyne Bradley is survived by her four children, Jayme Platero, Frank Bradley III, Francis Bradley and Francine Bradley Arthur. She had 15 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.

She was preceded in death by her husband, Frank Bradley, Jr., and her son, Wess Edward "Hogo" Smith.

"Everyone looked up to her," said her daughter, Francine Bradley.

Jenny Kane can be reached at jkane@daily-times.com; 505-564-4636. Follow her on Twitter @Jenny_Kane.