Prince George's first woman lawyer fondly remembered

The first woman to practice law in Prince George is being remembered as a compassionate person who went above and beyond for her clients, helping them with their personal challenges in addition to their legal ones.

Agnes Kristin Krantz died Tuesday in Prince Rupert following a brief illness. She was 67 years old.

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"She was very concerned about equality, particularly for disadvantaged people," said retired judge Lynne Dollis, a longtime friend of Krantz. "She used to have this phrase which I loved, which was something like 'we're all equal, anybody can sleep under a bridge.'"

Krantz entered the legal profession in the early 1970s and at a time when "glass ceilings were more like concrete ceilings," retired judge and former law firm partner Vince Hogan said.

Securing a separate change room at the old Third Avenue courthouse, now the Prince George Native Friendship Centre, was among the battles Krantz had to fight.

"There was no barristers' change room for the women barristers and when Agnes first came, the government certainly wasn't prepared to change that," Hogan said.

"Rosa Parks didn't change the bus scene by waiting for a taxi and Agnes just started changing her clothes in the middle of the men's barristers room when she had to go to county court and eventually they got the message.

"By the time the other young women lawyers came along, the government finally cracked and put in a female barristers' room."

Krantz graduated from high school in Dawson Creek, which happened to be home to northern B.C.'s first woman lawyer, Shirley Giroday, who practiced with her husband, Michael, from 1958 to 1968 when they moved to Powell River.

Krantz went on to the University of British Columbia where she was a top student in mathematics and physics while working as a telephone operator to pay her way through university.

But after completing an undergraduate degree, Krantz opted for the legal profession and entered UBC law school at a time when just 10 per cent of the class were women.

"She always used to tell us a story that she very much wanted to be considered equal and the professor said something to the effect, 'all right, Miss Krantz, you can answer every second question," said Deborah O'Leary, who worked alongside Krantz for about 10 years.

Finding a job after graduating in the early 1970s was not easy, according to Dollis.

"I can tell you, Agnes had a very difficult time getting articles... most firms didn't want to hire a woman," Dollis said.

However, she secured a position in Prince George in 1972 at Bate and Co.

She eventually became a sole practitioner in 1981, then a Crown prosecutor in 1982 in Quesnel. By the next year, she had returned to Prince George as a legal aid staff lawyer, a position for which she seemed exceptionally qualified in O'Leary's view.

"It takes a certain kind of person to deal with clients who are on the fringe and can be very difficult and she did that very well," said O'Leary, who was also a legal aid lawyer in Prince George at the time.

Clients included a fair share of people with mental illnesses, developmental challenges and substance abuse issues and Krantz would go beyond being a representative in court, said O'Leary.

"I think when Agnes had a client, she tried to look at them from a holistic point of view and tried to give them suggestions about making their lives better as well as well as dealing with the legal problem," O'Leary said.

Krantz also sat on the board for the Prince George Regional Hospital and was involved in support groups for injured workers and the brain injured.

In 1990, she was recruited to establish a legal aid office in Rankin Inlet on the western shore of Hudson's Bay.

"She learned such skills as how to sit through adjournments while the RCMP witnesses went out to shoot polar bears that were menacing the courthouse," Hogan said.

Two years later, Krantz was back at the legal aid office in Prince George and in 1993 she was made a Queen's counsel, an honour conferred on members of the legal profession to recognize exceptional merit and contribution.

In 1994, she was appointed a provincial court judge in Prince Rupert, from where she often traveled to remote communities to hear cases.

Krantz will be missed.

"She was a good friend and a good person," Dollis said.

Krantz is survived by her husband Kevin Newton, her children Mathew, Karen, and Allison and her partner, Jennifer, her grandchildren Zachary, Wendy, Dalton, Jessica and Joshua, and her siblings Arnold, Gunnar and Jim.

A memorial service will be held at St. Paul's Lutheran church in Prince Rupert on Thursday, at 2 p.m. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be sent to St. Paul's Lutheran Church, 460 McBride St., Prince Rupert, B.C. V8J 3G2.

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