Laguna Logo

A Sense of History: Former Mayor Jane Egly looks back on a storied career & extraordinary marriage


Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Imagine a time before Donald Trump and Bill Clinton. Imagine a world that didn’t yet know the words “Watergate” or “Vietnam War.” Picture an era when John F. Kennedy still sat in the U.S. Senate. Now imagine a young girl, 14, who skipped enough school that her principal called her in to talk about her “sore throat problem.” Then imagine this: unlike other truant teens, Jane Egly was missing school to board a bus bound for D.C., sneak into the U.S. Capitol, stuff her belongings in the ladies’ room located beneath the rotunda, and spend long days attending Senate and committee hearings. 

Growing up in Silver Spring, Maryland, Washington was Egly’s playground. Politicians were the east coast’s Hollywood stars. History was being made in Egly’s backyard. But, beyond that, she simply took an early and natural interest in politics, government, and civil rights. “I didn’t see it as politics. I saw it as history,” Egly says of her time spent in the U.S. Capitol. “These men were famous, and I was a groupie.”

That history laid the foundation for the rest of Egly’s life as lawyer, mayor, city councilwoman, law professor, and activist. She came of age at a time when women and minorities were scarcely seen in law schools. 

Jane Egly close up

Click on photo for a larger image

Former Mayor and City Councilwoman Jane Egly

This all set the stage for a storied career, advocating for women, children, and seniors; and being a good steward for Laguna’s open spaces and sparse water resources. And now, this coming year, advocating for Orange County’s homeless.

The early years: Richard Nixon, Jimmy Hoffa & the U.S. Senate

The teen years are a formative period under any circumstance. But for Egly, time spent in the presence of the United States’ most influential politicians became pivotal. “We were the only kids running around,” says Egly. “We’d go into the hearing room and sit right behind the senators. We were never asked to move. Never asked who we were or what we were doing there. The senators would introduce themselves to us.” 

Egly crossed paths with then Vice President Richard Nixon, as well as German aerospace engineer and space architect Wernher Von Braun. Von Braun was Germany’s “rocket man,” developing weapons for the Nazis before a covert move to the U.S. to work on our ballistic missile program. “I saw our next door neighbor whispering in Von Braun’s ear,” says Egly. “He acknowledged me with a ‘don’t-you-say-anything’ look. I never knew what it was about, except he was managing Von Braun.” 

An electric energy often surrounds people when they talk about their youth. Nostalgia mixes with fond memories of a forgotten time. But Egly’s memories feel even more charged, given our current political climate. Her eyes light up talking about those years, appreciating the uniqueness of her experience and the bygone era of citizen access to senators, scientists, CEOs, and union organizers. 

“I’d go to the Labor Racket Hearings. Bobby Kennedy was the questioner. My girlfriend and I were sitting in the audience. Next to us was this big guy, dark suit and tie, white shirt. He started to tell us who everyone was and what they were doing. And there, in front of us, was Jimmy Hoffa. The man said, ‘I’m going to introduce you.’ We met Jimmy Hoffa and Bobby Kennedy. A week later, I picked up Look Magazine and there was our fellow with numbers. He was an ex-con in the labor group. But he’d been as nice as he could be.”

Origin stories are sometimes difficult to pin down. What causes a teenager to be drawn to legislative procedure? “I started reading the paper toward the end of grade school,” she says. “Part of it was John Kennedy. But there wasn’t one magic event.” Were these the formative encounters that set the stage for Egly’s career? Would that career have happened anyway? There’s beauty to be found in the mystery. But the experiences certainly stuck with her.

School days

Egly grew up in an environment that valued education. Of the 700 graduates in her high school class, 500 went to college. “Most folks were in the government,” she says. “It was an upper middle class Jewish community.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, Egly majored in history at the University of Maryland before transferring to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in 1962. Carolina didn’t accept women until their junior year. 

After graduating in 1964, Egly worked for the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women. Soon after, she married her first husband (Paul), enrolled in law school, and started her family. She had two children (Paul Jr. and Annie) 17 months apart while still attending school.

She began law school at the University of North Carolina. It was the first year they admitted black students, and only six women were in her class. When her husband took a job in Detroit, Egly transferred to Wayne State. There were advantages to attending a less prestigious school, she says. Wayne State had many people of color. The diversity and egalitarian attitude struck her as progressive. As an added bonus, she says, the food scene in Detroit was far better than Chapel Hill.

The early years of feminism

This, it occurs to me, is 1960s feminism. Women were beginning to have it all, but they were also doing it all. 

Perhaps Egly wasn’t the first woman to enter law school (she graduated exactly a decade after Justice Ruth Ginsberg), but women were still a rarity in the field. If she wasn’t blazing the trail, she was certainly still sweeping the path. 

And, of course, a man’s career took priority over his wife’s. Egly followed her husband first to Detroit and then to California, all while studying for the State Bar and caring for two toddlers. She volunteered in classrooms and served as a school crossing guard. She spent time on soccer fields and baseball games, and plenty of hours in the sand watching her son surf, always putting the priority on her children ahead of anything else. And then she went to work – advocating for women and children, serving on the board of the Boys and Girls Club and as first president of the Capistrano Unified School District Foundation. 

“That’s the difference between the male attorney and the lady attorney,” she says. “They’d come late to court because they’d been on the golf course. I’d be screaming at my kids, so we’d arrive in time for carpool. Or I’d be sitting in a doctor’s office with a sick kid.” Egly practiced law for over 30 years in a variety of capacities, raising two children and stepdaughter Patti. Women, she observes, didn’t have time for an interior life of thoughtful contemplation like their male counterparts. 

Jane Egly with Sebastian

Click on photo for a larger image

Jane Egly at home with Sebastian

Egly is still deeply involved in Planned Parenthood, committed to ensuring low income and uninsured women have access to affordable healthcare. The underdogs, and the support of their rights, have been an enduring theme in Egly’s life and her long career.

A head for law and a heart for justice

Women weren’t Egly’s only concern. As a young lawyer, she witnessed the destructive effects the court system had on its youngest and most innocent participants – children. “I persuaded a family law judge to appoint me as the attorney for the child in a custody case,” Egly said in a 2008 Statement when running for City Council. “He continued appointing me and we began to get lots of attention. With the help of a State Assemblymember, this practice of appointing an attorney for the child became state law and is the practice followed in the court today.” Today she says this might be her proudest accomplishment.

Egly has served on the board of Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles, delivering legal aid to those in need. She was also active on the board of the Laguna Greenbelt. And, in 2019, she’ll join the board of the Friendship Shelter as an advocate for the homeless.

Laguna Mayor and City Councilwoman 

Laguna’s politics have always been spiked with passion and fraught with controversy. Those are two elements that don’t scare Egly. In 2004, someone asked her to run for City Council. That’s all it took. “I think that’s my life,” she says. “Opportunities came up and I thought they might work out. I didn’t know, but thought I’d try.” 

Egly served from 2004 to 2012 and was the Mayor in 2008. “I loved being on the council. I loved being mayor,” she says. In 2016, she was elected to the Laguna Beach County Water District’s commission.

Her second husband, Judge Paul Egly, wasn’t initially excited about his wife’s run for office. But he quickly came around to support her. “You’ll have my vote,” he finally told her. “When I ran for council, he backed me up. He didn’t tell me what to do. He would always listen.”

Life with – and without – the Honorable Paul Egly

Much can be told about us based on the people we marry. A spouse reflects who we are, what we value, and what we need. They bolster our strengths and compensate for our weaknesses. Our marital complement can tell volumes. Paul and Jane Egly exemplify this truth.

Jane Egly and Paul

Click on photo for a larger image

Jane’s favorite painting of her with husband Paul

When I first met them earlier this year, I was struck by their relationship and the depth of respect and affection they held toward each other. After 34 years of marriage, Jane still seemed not only in love, but profoundly moved by her husband. Her pride in Judge Egly – and his many accomplishments – shined through the difficult heartache of watching him fade. When he passed last June, Jane knew it was the right time. “I miss him,” she says. “But he left a nice legacy.”

Jane had heard tales about Judge Paul Egly long before meeting him. When she came to California, she began practicing law in the firm Judge Egly started (although, by that time, he had already left that office for the bench). His reputation preceded him, already a legal legend in the industry. 

But when they finally did meet in person, she was initially unimpressed. “I walked into his office, and there was this old, fat man playing with his tie,” she recalls. “His shirt was open, and you could see his T-shirt. I’m thinking, ‘That’s Paul Egly?!’ I told a joke and he laughed. That was it. He had the best laugh.” The rest, as they say, is history, and there is a mountain of history between them.

Despite their 21-year age gap, Judge Egly promised to give Jane “ten good years.” Ultimately, they were married for 34. Her joke to him throughout their marriage: “When are those good years going to begin? Just let me know.” 

“I learned more about everything after I met him,” says Jane. “Look at me. I’m Miss-Gal-from-North-Carolina. I never thought I would have this…” she pauses, searching for the right word. “I want to say opportunity. Yes. It was an opportunity to know him and be married to him.”

Jane Egly’s life has been filled with opportunities. And she’s had the wisdom to seize them all, however outside her comfort zone or seemingly scary. It’s a lesson for us all. When life says, “Try this!” answer with, “Why not?”