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Rehnquist Eulogies Look Beyond Bench

Pallbearers carry the casket of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist down the steps of the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle after the service.
Pallbearers carry the casket of Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist down the steps of the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle after the service. (Photos By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

O'Connor, who recalled first meeting the future chief justice when he was busing tables at a Stanford dining hall during their student days, remembered an unpublicized emergency room visit in the last week of his life, when a physician asked him who his primary care doctor was.

"My dentist," Rehnquist quipped.

Perhaps the most touching account of Rehnquist's family life came from Rehnquist's granddaughter, Natalie Ann Rehnquist Lynch, who has the same first name as Rehnquist's late wife.

She read from a letter she had written to him earlier this summer, noting that, before he died, the chief justice had asked her to read it at his funeral.

Lynch, a high school student, spoke of Rehnquist's passion for croquet games with his grandchildren and his taste for bologna sandwiches with jelly and mayonnaise.

He would offer a "shiny quarter" to any child who could memorize all 50 state capitals, and he taught them that they could sometimes improve their chances at cards by looking at a reflection of their opponent's hand in a window, Lynch said.

Rehnquist's son, James, said that "no one smelled the roses more than my Dad." He said that, during Rehnquist's time in Washington, he made it home for dinner with his family by 7:15 p.m. For half a century, Rehnquist had never missed a performance of Handel's "Messiah" at Christmas time.

He also revealed that Rehnquist, "vaguely dissatisfied" with law practice in 1968, bought a house in Colorado, "built a weird boat" and took his family for a summer of picking fruit alongside migrant workers.

James Rehnquist said his father considered making the new lifestyle permanent but changed his mind and eventually went to Washington in 1969 as assistant attorney general in the Nixon administration.

Spears spoke of her father's ability to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, from "a ripe pear" to "a distant view of the mountains."

She said that she once asked her father, whose competitive spirit on the tennis court compensated for his modest natural talent, if it was true that he selected law clerks based on their potential as doubles partners for him.

"Not at all," he replied. "That's one of several factors."

Another of the chief justice's favorite pastimes was betting on sports, elections and, as O'Connor recalled, "even the amount of snow that would fall in the courtyard at the court."

"I think the chief bet he could live out another term despite his illness," O'Connor said. "He lost that bet, as did all of us, but he won all the prizes for a life well lived."

Later, as she left the cathedral with the other justices, O'Connor whispered a single word to reporters: "Sad," she said.

Rehnquist was opposed to allowing televised proceedings of the high court, and the same rule prevailed at his send-off. At the request of Rehnquist's family, television cameras were barred from the cathedral. Nor was there any live audio coverage.

Though Rehnquist was a Lutheran, the service took place at a Catholic cathedral after Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the archbishop of Washington, had offered the building to accommodate the large congregation.

Staff writer William Branigan contributed to this report.


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