Memoirs Are Made of This: A Book Bash for Justice Clarence Thomas

By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 4, 2007

Full of broad smiles, backslaps and bonhomie, the usually taciturn Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was outspoken last night at a soiree celebrating his just-published memoir "My Grandfather's Son." The party was at the Capitol Hill home of conservative commentator Armstrong Williams, who told the scores of people that this is Thomas's first book.

"My last book," Thomas bellowed to much laughter.

Surrounded by friends and fellow conservatives, such as Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund and radio talk show host Laura Ingraham, Thomas engaged in pleasant small talk and posed for pictures. He had an easygoing manner and deep resonant voice. Danny Glover should play him in the movie version.

A parade of justices -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, Antonin Scalia -- wished him well. Thomas turned to wave at Chief Justice John Roberts. "Thanks, chief, for coming by," Thomas said.

He shook his head when speaking to columnist Cal Thomas and said of the publishing process: "You can have this business. I'll be glad when it's over."

Naomi Earp, chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said of her former boss: "This is a wonderful, smart human being. What he has done for his people -- he is committed to justice, committed to black people."

Williams said that Thomas told him one day he would write a book and set the record straight about the alleged sexual harassment that dominated his confirmation hearings. "That day has come," Williams said.

"People assume in reading the book that there's bitterness, there's anger," he said, but Williams doesn't believe Thomas has carried that sentiment with him all this time. The emotions arose when Thomas "had to go back and resurrect and regurgitate what happened. A lot of those feelings came back."

But, Williams added, "that's not where he is now. He just did what he had to do. I have never seen him happier or more at peace."

Taking a break from shaking hands, Thomas said he enjoys getting out and meeting people. But he doesn't particularly like talking about himself; "I love talking to people about different walks of life."

Sure enough, in the wide-ranging and deeply-interested-in-everything manner of Bill Clinton, Thomas dispensed advice to a Howard law school student. "Discipline," he said, is what separates the great law students from average ones. "It's all about discipline."

When he met chess grandmaster Maurice Ashley, Thomas told him that he wants to learn to play the game. Economist "Thomas Sowell," he told Ashley, "is a great chess player."

In the corner of the room, pianist Dewey Parker played old standards, such as "My Way."

Thomas beamed when he was introduced to some of Williams's family from South Carolina. He said he often drives through there on his way to Savannah, his childhood home. "Will you look after me?"

On a South Carolina roll, Thomas said that University of South Carolina -- and former Washington Redskins -- coach Steve Spurrier has invited him down to see the team play. "Yeah," Thomas said, "the Old Ball Coach."

NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and Thomas talked about Georgia. Thomas posed for a picture with a woman in a huge red hat. "I like that hat!" he said to Linda Softli of the Black Republican Women.

Out of the corner of his eye, he recognized sports commentator Stephen A. Smith, who hosted ESPN's now-defunct "Quite Frankly."

Thomas began quizzing him.

"Who was the Black Jesus?" Thomas asked.

Before Smith could answer, Thomas said, "Earl Monroe."

After Thomas grilled Smith on more old-school trivia, Smith finally said, "You're trying to show me that you know more about sports than I do."

Thomas launched into an impassioned speech decrying Bob Hayes's absence from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "That is one of the great injustices!" Thomas said. "And that is frankly speaking."

Midway through the party, Vice President Cheney and his wife, Lynne, arrived. Cheney shook hands with Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

When Thomas addressed the gathering, he praised his "court family." He thanked his dear friends, the Cheneys, for showing up, and his number one friend, his wife, Virginia.

He said that the Supreme Court is " a wonderful oasis of constructive disagreement and common endeavor."

As for all the publishing hubbub, he said, "I'm getting a little tired of it now."

He wrote the book, he said, in hopes that the world will learn the lessons his grandfather taught him: how a man can eschew bitterness and enmity and how to live an exemplary life.

"He never ever broke his word," Thomas said of the man who raised him. "You could model your life after him."

Then, he said to his friends, "Sorry to bother you. I sincerely appreciate your being here."

Staff writer Roxanne Roberts contributed to this report.

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