The Arizona Daily Star

Published: 09.27.2006

J.E. Holsey dies; state's 1st black female lawyer

By Aaron Mackey


Joyce Edline Holsey, a local lawyer who was the first black woman admitted to the State Bar of Arizona, died Saturday after a battle with cancer.

She was 79.

Remembered by family for her determination and compassion, Holsey spent a lifetime committed to fighting for the underserved despite becoming blind while attending law school.

Holsey "did not allow her disability to hamper her career or prevent her from practicing law at the highest level," her daughter, Dorine Holsey Streeter, said in an e-mail. "Instead, this as well as other obstacles she faced in life motivated her to work harder."

Born to Jamaican immigrants on Jan. 7, 1927, in New York City, Holsey quickly displayed her intelligence by skipping several grades in elementary school.

Graduating early from high school, Holsey received at age 19 a degree in chemistry from Hunter College in New York City. While in college she married Dr. William F. Holsey II.

In 1951, she received a master's degree in education of the visually impaired from Hunter.

The couple settled in Tucson in 1958, where William Holsey set up his medical practice. He would later become a chief of surgery and assistant chief of staff at St. Mary's Hospital.

About a decade later, Joyce Holsey applied to the James E. Rogers College of Law at the University of Arizona. She was 40.

While enrolled Holsey suffered a degenerative eye condition that left her blind.

In 1971 she became the first black woman to graduate from the UA's law school. She was admitted to the state bar later that year.

Holsey spent 25 years working for Southern Arizona Legal Aid, specializing in domestic-relations law.

It was in the courtroom that Holsey fought for the rights of battered women and abused children, her daughter said.

For her work, she was honored in 2000 with a lifetime-achievement award from the YWCA.

Holsey was preceded in death by her husband. She is survived by her children, Denyce Holsey, Dorine Holsey Streeter and William F. Holsey III; and two grandchildren.

The family asks that in lieu of flowers donations be made in Holsey's name to the Foundation Fighting Blindness, P.O. Box 17279, Baltimore 21203.

● Contact reporter Aaron Mackey at 629-9412 or