History-making Houston judge retires after 28 years on the federal bench

Celebrating Black History Month

HOUSTON – In 1994, Judge Vanessa Gilmore made history as the youngest person serving on the federal branch. Now, Gilmore is hanging up her robe and preparing for a new life outside of the courthouse.

Gilmore retired Jan. 2, 2022, completing 28 years as a United States District Court Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

An East Coast native, Gilmore arrived in Houston in 1977 as a 20-year-old college graduate.

“I moved here to become a fashion buyer at Foley’s Department Store,” she recalled.

Law school was not part of the plan, she said until she filed her first lawsuit against her apartment complex for theft.

She won the case and decided to take the LSAT. Gilmore enrolled in the University of Houston Law School in 1979.

“It really was the first year that there was a critical mass of women that were attending law school at UH. There were less than nine Black students all together and just a handful of Black women,” Gilmore said.

She was enjoying a successful career as a Houston trial lawyer when she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to become a U.S. District Court Judge.

“I sort of got ‘voluntold’ that I was going to be a federal judge. It is not a job that I would have picked for myself, but it is the job that was really suited to my personality. I think it’s one of those things where if you want to make God laugh, you tell him your plans because it has been an amazing career that I’ve felt completely blessed to have,” Gilmore said.

Her life outside of the courtroom included a commitment to community service and a decision at age 44 to adopt a baby boy.

“That baby that I adopted back in 2001 is now 21 years old. He’s just been the joy of my life,” she said of her son who is a college student and entrepreneur.

Gilmore said her next chapter includes a focus on passion projects.

“I’m going to be opening a tearoom on Riverside Drive called Tea with Judge V,” she said.

Gilmore said her next venture was inspired by the teas she would host in her office in the downtown Houston federal courthouse, offering a chance for people to connect and network.

So far, no word on who will replace Judge Gilmore on the bench.

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Emmy-winning journalist, native Houstonian, reader, dancer, yogi.