The crowd gathered at the Tabernacle on Friday afternoon to celebrate the life of attorney, professor, and activist Lani Guinier heard stories of a remarkable advocate, scholar, teacher and friend. The speakers, from family, friends and colleagues, painted a picture of a brilliant and thoughtful woman well ahead of her time.

Most famously, Ms. Guinier is known for her nomination for assistant attorney general by Bill Clinton in 1993, a nomination that was eventually withdrawn due to Republican criticism that she was too radical.

Ms. Guinier attended Radcliffe College, then Yale Law School, later joining the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where she worked to advance voting rights in the Deep South. In 1989, she returned to academia as a Professor of Law at the University of Pennsylvania. ​Heather Gerken, the Dean of Yale Law School and a mentee of Ms. Guinier, noted that Ms. Guinier, while incisive and inquisitive, never presented her conclusions as definitive answers.

Ray Ewing

​“She posed questions to engage students to figure out what questions we should be asking in the first place,” Ms. Gerken said, adding that her questions were all at once kind, gentle, fierce and ferocious. “You had to sit with your discomfort before you even thought to answer.”

While teaching in Philadelphia, Ms. Guinier also befriended Phoebe Haddon, Aretha Marshall and Charisse Lillie, or as event emcee Reverend Harlon Dalton deemed them, “The Philadelphia Mafia.” Her friends knew Ms. Guinier to be the same sharp, analytical mind that her colleagues had painted, but in slightly different contexts.

Both Ms. Haddon and Ms. Marshall described how Ms. Guinier threw herself into preschool research when all three of them had toddlers, eventually discovering a preschool committed to innovative forms of learning. The foursome enjoyed yoga, spa days and trips to the beach at Ms. Guinier’s family home in Oak Bluffs. Ms. Marshall described their last spa day together took place on the Island while attending a family wedding. Ms. Guinier had grown tired, and her three friends were in the process of taking her home when Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor tapped Ms. Marshall on the shoulder.

“’She’s so lucky to have good friends like you,’ she had said. And we were so lucky to have her,” Ms. Marshall said.

Ms. Guinier even married on the Island, to fellow attorney and intellectual Nolan Bowie. The pair met at a party when Ms. Guinier struck up a conversation with his then-four-year-old daughter, Dana. Mr. Bowie had noticed they both drove Saabs.

“I thought, two Black people driving Saabs at that point was kind of quirky,” he said.

Ms. Guinier had evidently noticed a deeper connection, as she enlisted a mutual friend, Elaine Jones, the first female director-counsel of the LDF, to invite them both to lunch. Mr. Bowie had forgotten, engendering a stern talking-to from Ms. Jones, he recalled. Ms. Guinier decided to give him a second chance, and the two married at Ms. Guinier’s family vacation home in 1986.

​Ms. Guinier died on Jan. 7 at age 71 afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease. In his eulogy, Ms. Guinier’s son, Niko Bowie, recounted his mother’s experience with the disease.

​“She was simply ahead of her time,” he said. “And she was well ahead of her time leaving us.”

​“My mom’s illness showed me that even if the threads of memory make us who we are, they don’t just exist alone,” Mr. Bowie said. “More than a collection of threads, when we collaborate together, we can weave together a quilt of memories much warmer and stronger than one we could make ourselves.”