Raised in Saginaw, Atkins worked hard to overcome childhood challenges, including family turmoil and abuse, to graduate from St. Joseph's High School. She continued her education at SVSU, earning a bachelor's degree in psychology.
Atkins then completed a law degree at the University of Detroit School of Law. After graduation, she became a lawyer and then was appointed the chief judge in Detroit's 36th District Court for 12 years until her retirement in 2012.
After retiring from the bench, Atkins wrote her autobiography “The Triumph of Rosemary: A Memoir,” which was published in 2017. The memoir – at times raw and in other passages heartwarming – addresses important topics of diversity and social change.
Born to an Italian teen and a married black man in Detroit in 1946, Atkins was adopted by a black couple in Saginaw. At age 19, she sparked a racial and religious scandal by marrying former Roman Catholic priest Thomas Lee Atkins, who was white and 25 years older than she.
The couple had two biracial daughters, Elizabeth Ann Atkins and Catherine Marie Atkins Greenspan, who look white. The parents worked full time, and in a reversal of traditional gender roles, Marylin Atkins attended law school at night while Tom took the high-achieving girls to lessons for swim, piano, and skiing. Both daughters ultimately completed graduate degrees.
Over time, family rifts resulting from the interracial marriage began to heal, fostering harmony and healing. The Atkins family's lifestyle includes friendships and associations with people of a cornucopia of race, religion, and culture.
Atkins currently resides Detroit. Her late husband died in 1990. Their daughters created a publishing company, Two Sisters Writing and Publishing, which published “The Triumph of Rosemary.”
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