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Sandra Day O'Connor remembered in El Paso

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.elpasotimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050702/NEWS/507020331/1001 Saturday, July 2, 2005 She was brilliant Friends remember teen as superb
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 2, 2005

      Saturday, July 2, 2005

      'She was brilliant'
      Friends remember teen as 'superb' dancer

      Diana Washington Valdez
      El Paso Times

      After Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement, El
      Pasoans who knew her as a teenager described her as
      brilliant, quiet and studious.

      The outgoing Supreme Court justice was born in El Paso
      and attended Radford School. She was 16 when she
      transferred to Austin High School, where she graduated
      sixth in her class of 156 in 1946. She visited El Paso
      a few times after she became a Supreme Court justice
      and attended her high-school class's 50-year reunion.

      In her later years, after having been a state senator
      and court of appeals judge in Arizona and as a Supreme
      Court justice, she was described as "unassuming,"
      "fun-loving" and "a superb dancer."

      "She was so thrilled to be back here and to see
      everybody at the reunion," said Cecil Bear, a
      contemporary of O'Connor's during their high-school
      years. "She said she looked forward to seeing the
      (Austin High) 'A' letter on the mountain. She danced
      quite a bit at the reunion. When I mentioned that I
      could take her to the airport, she said, 'I can ride
      the shuttle -- that's no big deal.' That's how
      unassuming she was."

      Elizabeth "Hondy" Hill McAlmon, an Austin High
      classmate and friend of O'Connor's, said "we saw each
      other in the summers. I would stay at her family's
      ranch, and she would stay with me in El Paso. She was
      brilliant. She grasped ideas easily, and whatever she
      did, she did it perfectly, whether it was riding a
      horse or cooking. We played a lot of games, such as
      checkers and monopoly, and she always won."

      "She was the voice of common sense on the Supreme
      Court," said Nancy Hamilton, another former schoolmate
      of O'Connor's. Both belonged to the National Honor
      Society and Kalevala writing club during high school.

      Hamilton said O'Connor's book, "The Majesty of the
      Law: Reflections of a Supreme Court Justice," does "a
      very good job of describing how the court works." The
      Supreme Court justice also wrote about life on her
      family ranch in the 2003 book "Lazy B: Growing up on a
      Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest."

      "Because of her prestigious career and connection to
      Austin High, student council president Robert Corral
      wrote her a letter asking her if she would be willing
      to lend her name to the district's new magnet school,"
      said Larry Monarrez, spokesman for the El Paso
      Independent School District. "She replied that she
      would be honored and even promised to visit the
      (campus) when time permitted."

      Young Sandra Day divided her childhood in the 1930s
      and 1940s between El Paso and her family's Lazy B
      Ranch near Lordsburg, N.M.

      Betty Jo Farnsworth of Lordsburg was a frequent
      visitor at the Lazy B Ranch when her daughter, Sue,
      was married to Sandra Day O'Connor's brother, Alan.
      She got to see a very different side of the first
      woman Supreme Court justice.

      "She's such an ordinary person when you meet her at
      the ranch, when she can just be herself," Farnsworth
      said. "She can be prim and proper when she has to be,
      but she can be lots of fun."

      H. Vern Payne, a former chief justice of the New
      Mexico Supreme Court, first met O'Connor when he was 6
      years old and rode the school bus in Lordsburg with
      the future Supreme Court justice, who was then in
      junior high. Their paths crossed again at judicial
      training sessions in the 1970s, when O'Connor was an
      Arizona appellate judge and he was a New Mexico judge.
      "She had a terrific reputation," Payne said.

      In 1982, Payne thought he'd do a little lobbying for
      his former busmate when a vacancy opened on the U.S.
      Supreme Court. His opportunity came at a dinner in
      Washington, when he got into a discussion with an aide
      to Chief Justice Warren Burger.

      "I said to him, 'They ought to get Sandra Day
      O'Connor.' The assistant's head whipped around and he
      said, 'What do you know about that?' I said, 'I know
      she grew up on a ranch out in Southern New Mexico and

      Much later, Payne said, the assistant told him, "When
      you said her name, I thought someone had leaked her
      name. The president (Ronald Reagan) had mentioned her
      name as a possibility."

      U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, who will help
      to confirm a new justice, was a friend of hers. "She
      has been a wonderful role model for young women in
      America and around the world," Hutchison said. "Her
      tenure on the bench has set a new standard of

      Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. said, "When Justice
      O'Connor was named to the Supreme Court, there was a
      lot of anticipation and excitement about her and what
      she would bring to the court. I believe she certainly
      met and exceeded a lot of expectations. She brought a
      new insight and outlook to the court, and her
      pragmatic Southwest sensibilities are reflected in her
      opinions. She has served the court and the nation

      Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at
      dvaldez@...; 546-6140.

      Jeanne La Marca of the Lordsburg Liberal contributed
      to this story.
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