Bush, O'Connor lead tributes to Rehnquist

Knight Ridder NewspapersSeptember 7, 2005 

WASHINGTON—Of all the statements made about Chief Justice William Hubbs Rehnquist during his funeral at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington on Wednesday, the most fitting may have been the casket in which he was buried. It was crafted of unvarnished knotty pine, and it spoke volumes about Rehnquist's personality and style: Austere. Dignified. Commanding.

President Bush and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor led the nation's farewell to the 16th chief justice, who was celebrated not only as a top jurist but also as a father, grandfather and close friend.

"In every chapter of his life, William Rehnquist stood apart for his powerful intellect and clear convictions," Bush said. "He carried himself with dignity, but without pretense. Like Ronald Reagan, the president who elevated him to chief justice, he was kindly and decent, and there was not an ounce of self-importance about him."

Hundreds packed the cathedral for the private funeral.

Rehnquist's casket, which had been on display at the Supreme Court, was preceded into the chapel by the eight associate Supreme Court justices and followed by his family. The audience included many Cabinet members and leaders from the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as a who's who list of high-powered lawyers and conservative activists.

Also in attendance was John G. Roberts Jr., a former Rehnquist clerk and the man Bush nominated to replace him. Roberts, if confirmed, would be the second-youngest chief justice in history and the first clerk to succeed his former boss.

St. Matthew's was donated to the Rehnquist family because the chief's church, the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in McLean, Va., was too small. Following the ceremony, Rehnquist was buried at Arlington Cemetery, next to his wife, Natalie Cornell Rehnquist, who died in 1991.

His grave is also near those of other former justices, including Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan.

Several speakers, including O'Connor, offered warm, personal remembrances that revealed insight into the chief's personality and his sense of humor, which wasn't always on public display. Rehnquist maintained an intense privacy during his 33 years on the high court.

Bush noted Rehnquist's love of music.

"He enjoyed music, and having stood next to him during the National Anthem, I can tell you the man loved to sing," Bush said.

Rehnquist's pastor, the Reverend George W. Evans, said Rehnquist's inability last year to make the range for church hymns was the chief's first inkling that he might be ill.

O'Connor recalled Rehnquist, a close friend she first met when both were enrolled at Stanford University in 1946, as a poignant humorist.

Just last week, she said, as Rehnquist was being examined in the emergency room of a Washington hospital, the doctor asked who his primary physician was. "`My dentist,' he struggled to say, with a twinkle in his eye," O'Connor remembered. Rehnquist announced last October that he had thyroid cancer. He worked through most of his battle with the disease until his death last week.

O'Connor said the chief's sense of humor "never left him, and he could break up a tense moment with a funny story, quip or poem."

On the last day of the term, Rehnquist noted that seven different justices wrote opinions in a contentious Ten Commandments case, and he joked: "I didn't know we had so many justices on our court."

"It drew hearty laughter from the spectators," O'Connor said.

James Cornell Rehnquist described a devoted father who kept work and family in balance. He said his father spoke at his high school graduation in 1973 and won over the class hippies by urging graduates to "smell the roses."

"I think it's safe to say that no one smelled more roses than my dad," the younger Rehnquist said. "Now, I must say, it's easier to strike the proper work-life balance when you can do in an hour or two what most people need a couple days to do."

He said family vacations were "sacred" to Rehnquist. The younger Rehnquist, a lawyer in Massachusetts, said he was reluctant to follow his father into the legal profession. "But, if anything, it's been even more daunting to follow in his footsteps as a father," he said.

Daughter Nancy Rehnquist Spears talked about her father's playful side.

"I hardly remember him working. When he was home, he was always ready to play," she said. On the rare occasions when he talked about his work, their mother would warn the children to keep it to themselves.

"We'd roll our eyes and wonder who she thought would possibly be interested," Spears said.

"It was easy to make my father happy," she said, ticking off a list of his pleasures that included "a perfectly ripe pear," her mother's cooking and poetry. He also liked to bet and once offered her $5 if she could give the date of Queen Elizabeth's death. Spears, who was home from college at the time and had studied that era, came up with the answer: 1603.

"There was a silence and a muffled curse," she said. "Five dollars was not a lot of money, not now, not then, but my father spent the rest of the summer trying to win it back from me."

Granddaughter Natalie Ann Rehnquist Lynch read a letter that she wrote to her grandfather in June, which he wanted read at his funeral. The letter recalled their good times together doing mundane things, including playing cards. She told him that, without him, she "would know nothing about bridge or poker or fan tan, or how to look in the reflection of the window to see the cards of the person sitting across from you." She also remembers how her grandfather made "bologna, lettuce, tomato sandwiches" topped with jelly and mayonnaise.

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): REHNQUIST

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