By Lindsey Tercilla (4JM) and Elise Giordano (4JM)
Jeanne Trudeau Tate (JD 81) smiles and laughs as tarantulas crawl along her arm, snakes rest on her neck and birds perch on her fingers. They prance, slither and sometimes kiss all over her.
Renowned for placing children with permanent families, Tate was instrumental in forming Tampa’s Camp Kids Hope, weekend get-togethers where foster children and potential host families can bond. Meanwhile, in their Tampa home, Tate and her husband foster their own charges: wild animals that have been injured or left for dead.
For Tate, adoption is a 24-hour job. Her assistance to others has won Tate the 2013 Tobias Simon Award, Florida Supreme Court’s highest recognition for pro bono service. Adoption law seemed like a natural fit for Tate, who grew up in a family that stressed giving back. And she has exclusively devoted the last 14 years of her life to an adoption agency and an adoption law firm with 29 employees in Orlando, Naples and Tampa.
Tate worked in the “big-firm” environment specializing in securities, construction law and admiralty litigation, doing adoption on the side. She was one of the first women to make partner at Shackleford, Farrior, Stallings & Evans in the firm’s 90-year history, and the first woman to make partner at Hill Ward Henderson.
“When I first started, I wasn’t even allowed to go to lunch with the partners at Shackleford since they ate at the University Club which banned women,” she said.
In 1999, Tate took a chance to start her own adoption practice with one secretary and one paralegal. She also started an adoption agency called Heart of Adoptions, Inc. She convinced community-based care providers to aid her in placing children and tapped into her resources and contacts to find them permanent homes.
“Whether it was going to be a full-time practice or part-time practice, I knew it was going to be a rewarding practice,” she said.
She and husband Mark T. Tate (JD 83, LLMT 84) share a love for all things scaly, slimy, furry or feathered. When they first met as UF undergraduates, Mark Tate had an affinity for snakes and already owned one as a pet. Now he has his breeder’s license, and his snake collection includes a 5-year old Burmese python named Tanya.
Their menagerie of more than 50 animals includes eels, tortoises, chickens, spiders, scorpions, skinks, an iguana, an umbrella cockatoo, a raccoon, a pappillion and a cat. And yet the assorted arachnids, birds and reptiles are discreetly sequestered, hardly noticeable without a tour of the home’s wild side.
In addition to caring for animals and running an adoption law practice, Tate is an adjunct professor at UF Law, where she teaches adoption law and procedure.
The Gator legacy runs deep in Tate’s family. She is a double Gator, her husband is a triple Gator, her daughter is a double Gator and her son recently graduated from UF with a degree in mechanical engineering. Tate took tax classes for most of her electives during law school. It was through these that she gained a mentor and lifelong friend in UF Law Professor Dennis Calfee (LLMT 75).
“He not only was a mentor back then, but he continues to be a friend to me and a mentor to my daughter, who recently graduated,” Tate said.
“I had her husband Mark as a student. He was my research assistant and that’s how I got to know Jeanne,” Calfee said.
Calfee attended Tate’s wedding and that of her daughter Erica (JD 10). He had a déjà vu moment at Erica’s wedding, when he realized he was sitting in the same seat he sat in during Jeanne’s.
“Now I have the opportunity to have her as a colleague. We’ve come full circle in life,” Calfee said. “Jeanne was a superb law student. She’s a superb wife, mother and lawyer. She’s an example for us all.”