Remembering Judge Donald Dean Haley

by Georgia S. McCade

In 1951 when Donald Dean Haley graduated from Jefferson Davis Parish Training Colored School in Roanoke, Louisiana, his cousin Daniel Haley in Seattle asked him what he planned to do. Don answered, “Work in the rice field with Dad.” He was ever so wrong. 

The cousin responded, “Come on up, live with me, work your way through the University of Washington.”

Without hesitation, Donald left Roanoke for Seattle, and, as they say, the rest is history. He enrolled in the University of Washington, soon got a job as a riveter at Boeing, lived with the Haleys for a year, and then moved to a UW dormitory. 

In 1955 he earned a Bachelor in Political Science from the UW. A faculty advisor wanted him to go to graduate school, but Don wanted to go to law school although the professor said Don wanted to go to law school only so “he could boss white people.”

In a 2013 interview for the 100th Anniversary of the National Advancement of Colored People, Judge Haley said, “In those days, they’d let three or four African Americans in law school, and then scare them out, that it was too difficult. There were two of us in my class, and we both graduated. … The other law students had a better high-school education than I did. The odds were against me. So, I just worked twice as hard and went over lessons over and over.” Three years later he completed UW Law School.

He was doing what he had been taught to do: succeed. Long before the invitation to come to Seattle, many people, family and friends, assisted Don.

Judge Haley
Judge Donald Dean Haley (Photo Courtesy Seattle King County NAACP)

He had grown up in a small, old-fashioned community surrounded by persons who nurtured him; everyone knew everyone and helped each other in any way possible.

His father was forever telling him, “No one can take knowledge away from you.”

Teacher Juanita Tibbadeaux assured him, “You can do anything you want. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. You can’t blame anyone else if you don’t make it.”

His son Byron said, “I have always said that of all the fathers in all the world, I was blessed to have the very best one. He gave me the gift of showing me how to live my life free from fear and worry.”

The judge lived his life this way.

Judge Haley has an impressive résumé. He became a law clerk and then bailiff to Judge Eugene A. Wright in the King County Superior Court in 1959. Soon he took advantage of another rare opportunity for an African American by going into private practice as a partner in the firm of Lundin, Estep, Sindell, Haley & Hanson, Inc. P.S. He was a hearing examiner on Washington State Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. In 1969 he became a judge. During his tenure, he served on countless committees and in positions as chair or president.

Civil rights and social justice were of utmost importance and seriousness to Judge Hailey. He, wife Margaret, and Byron were in the newspaper in the late 1960s for integrating “a North Seattle Community.” His response to not being wanted in the neighborhood: “I’m sorry, but we’re going to stay here.”

He never tired of telling constituents about the value of the vote and why all of us have to vote in all elections. Never one to tell another how to vote, he would not hesitate to tell anyone how he planned to vote.

One of his greatest gifts was being one of 13 founders of the Loren Miller Bar Association, formerly the Loren Miller Bar Club, in 1968. The civil rights organization continues to focus on “issues of race and social and economic disparities that affect the African-American community.”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) also kept him busy. The judge made his time, money, and any other resource available to these organizations because he always believed he owed his community. He had been helped; he had to help others.

Many of his numerous dreams had become a reality; he did what he could to make the dreams of others realities. Both organizations give scholarships. The more money for scholarships, the better. Everyone should have the opportunity to go to college; not going should not be the result of not having the funds. Despite being retired, he took the time to keep his license active.  

Legal work and community activities did not take up all of Judge Haley’s time. He had a wonderful sense of humor and loved to tell jokes. Several of his friends described him as “dapper” because he was always well-dressed; he also enjoyed selecting clothes for Margaret.

Thanksgiving was his favorite holiday, perhaps because of his November 25th birthday.  According to him, only he could smoke turkeys for the grand family celebrations. He hated to drive. Dancing—he and Margaret were often the first dancers on the floor and the last to leave. He did not hesitate to proclaim his beloved fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi the best; he was a member of Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity.

He loved Peoples Institutional Baptist Church where for decades he was active until he became ill. Members expected him to be parliamentarian at the church meetings. He wrote resolutions. A favorite task was getting the men—properly attired, bow ties and all, of course—to serve at the annual Women Ministries luncheon. A tradition at Peoples is the annual legal workshop coordinated by Judge Haley. Here members were provided information about wills and answers to any legal questions. They had his permission to call him at home for advice.  

Obituaries often end with “He will be sorely missed.” I can think of no better way of ending this one.  For the family and friends who knew Judge Donald Dean Haley as well as many who never knew him and won’t know him, there’s a good chance Judge Haley in some way contributed to many of the rights you enjoy. Indeed, he will be sorely missed.


A memorial service for Judge Donald Haley will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday, August 30th, at Peoples Institutional Church at 159 24th Avenue in Seattle.

Thanks to Loren Miller Bar Association, Judge Charles Johnson, Judge LeRoy McCullough, Lacy Steele, Cathy Marshall, Byron and Janice Jackson-Haley for contributions to this piece.

Featured Photo: Judge Donald Dean Haley in 2013. (Photo: Susan Fried)

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