Oxford, MS: Nautilus (pub: April 11, 2017)
“If it’s a boy,” Bill Strong announced to a crowded courtroom in
Louisville, Mississippi, “I'll send up black smoke; if it’s a girl, I'll send up white.”
A few hours later, white smoke was billowing from the Strong’s chimney. This smoke —
determined by gender — would come to define Mary Ann Strong Connell’s life in ways she never
could have expected.
Neil White, publisher of An Unforeseen Life, said, “Readers are going to love this story of
loss, faith, tragedy, and perseverance.”
When Connell was eight, fire took the life of her younger brother. She blamed herself for the
accident, and guilt became a motivator the remainder of her remarkable life.
In An Unforeseen Life readers will share with Connell her experiences as she faced a different
kind of firestorm when she became one of the first women practicing law in Oxford, Mississippi.
The scenes continue to unfold when she convinces the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan to move
their march off the Ole Miss campus.
Her readers will share in her pain when she is called as an adverse witness in the wrongful
termination trial of football coach Billy Brewer, who had once been her classmate at Ole Miss, and
the exhaustion and difficulty of two NCAA investigations.
There are moments of humor when she warns a first-year law student named John Grisham
“if you don’t get serious, you’ll never succeed at the practice of law” to a battle with Oxford’s
colorful mayor John Leslie (who took to calling her “The Sewer Queen”) to a client who paid her
with a sack of coons.
We witness the character growth of those around her, including her husband whose
conservative beliefs about women began to erode as he saw her succeed. We applaud her when she
enrolls in law school with four young children, and also as she attends Harvard Law School for an
advanced degree (alongside fellow classmate Barack Obama).
An Unforeseen Life is a powerful memoir about a woman, who embraced what she could, and
tried to make the most of her life despite an underlying sadness. Her story is a funny, touching
account of a life “most richly blessed” if sometimes in unexpected ways.
MARY ANN CONNELL practices law with Mayo Mallette, PLLC. She served as university attorney for
the University of Mississippi from 1982 to 2003 and as school board attorney for the Oxford School
District from 2003–13. Connell teaches courses in higher education law, school law, legal research
and writing, business law, and employment law. She is a frequent presenter at national, regional, and
state conferences on subjects involving higher education and school law. She is a past president of
the National Association of College and University Attorneys, past president of the Mississippi
Council of School Board Attorneys, and a fellow of the Mississippi Bar Foundation. She received
the Distinguished Service Award from the National Association of College and University
Attorneys; the Distinguished Service Award from the Lafayette County Bar Association; the Thomas
S. Biggs, Jr. Award for leadership, integrity, and service in the legal profession and the higher
education community from Stetson University Law School; the NAACP Freedom Award for
lifelong service in the area of education and civil rights; the Mississippi Women Lawyers Association
Outstanding Woman Lawyer in Mississippi Award; the University of Mississippi Chancellor’s Award
for outstanding contributions toward increasing diversity; and the Mortar Board National College
Senior Honor Society Award for outstanding teacher of the year.