Kathy Portnoy’s Complaint

She brought Updike and Mailer to Atlanta, but couldn’t land Philip Roth

Published in 2015 Georgia Super Lawyers — March 2015

“There are lawyers who are emotional, and it can interfere with being an effective lawyer,” says family attorney Kathy L. Portnoy of Warner, Bates, McGough, McGinnis & Portnoy. “I go by the Shakespeare adage: What we lawyers do is, ‘Strive mightily, but eat and drink as friends.’ I can go at it with my brother or sister lawyer in the courtroom, but I expect to walk out and shake hands.”

That Shakespeare reference, by the way, is no one-off.

An avid reader who’s always been in one literary club or another, Portnoy was a founding board member of the Georgia Shakespeare festival. “I was associated from the beginning, and now the end,” she says of the annual fete, which reached its final year in 2014. “It’s heartbreaking for me and many others in our community that it’s over, but we had a good run.”

In the beginning, her involvement was legal in nature. It turned into organizing and painting sets, and continued to grow more robust over time. One of her favorite moments: serving as the divorce lawyer in a mock trial for The Taming of the Shrew’s Petruchio against his wife, Kate.

“Oh, Petruchio was too cute,” she says. “I think we just won because he was so cute.”

A past president of the Atlanta Literary Group, Portnoy was also instrumental in chairing the Community Book Festival. If you happened to catch Norman Mailer or John Updike kicking around the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, you can thank Portnoy.

“I remember being able to sit around a table with Norman Mailer as he was sipping his whiskey and talking about how our democracy was failing,” she says. “It was just a surreal experience to be a part of the festival in those years.”

The one that got away? “Philip Roth,” she says. “That would have been the ultimate catch. I thought perhaps, with my last name, it would intrigue someone in his camp enough to call me back.”

Portnoy bemoans the lack of funding for the arts across the nation.

“Simply being a reader, that makes you a better writer, a better speaker, more empathetic to the life stories that are being told to you,” she says. “Reading good books keeps you healthy and onward-thinking.”

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