Former Chief Justice provides insight into her quaint beginnings
It started with a smattering of flattery.
Chancellor G.P. “Bud” Peterson, accompanied by Law School Dean David Getches, introduced former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as “one of the most influential and interesting westerners of our time” on Thursday night.
Instead of meeting the audience this important figure, O’Connor received them as the down-to-earth rancher’s daughter that she grew up as.
“Don’t ever learn to milk a cow,” she recollected her grandmother saying to her mother.
O’Connor grew up on the Lazy B Ranch in rural Arizona, which was originally part of the Gadsden Purchase of 1854. Her grandfather purchased the land in 1880.
She talked of the cowboys she grew up with, who taught her to ride a horse before she could walk.
“Jim Brister was amazing,” O’Connor recollected. “He could ride any horse that ever was. If he were around today he’d be a major league football player for sure.”
And her story couldn’t be complete without “Bug” Quinn, the colorful cowboy who, as O’Connor described, “had a great affinity for what was sold in the bars.”
Audience members said they appreciated what they took away from the speech.
“It really gives hope to any average American,” said Sam Levy, a freshman business management major.
Students also said they enjoyed her welcoming character.
“She seems like she has a great personality, so I enjoyed it,” said Cecilia Costelow, a sophomore French major.
Her speech was a combination of old-time innocence and sharp-tongued wit, often aided by moments of poetic interjection.
She remembered the much appreciated rain from her childhood, followed by lightning that “(touched) the earth with all the electric fury of the universe.”
O’Connor, who retired from the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006, received the 2008 Wallace Stegner Award on Thursday for “faithfully and evocatively depicting the spirit of the American west.”
The evening was western-themed, peacefully detached from the Washington D.C. environment where O’Connor made a name for herself.
When asked about her part in the 2000 presidential election between President Bush and former Vice President Al Gore, her first response was, “now that’s a long way from the Lazy B.”
O’Connor’s entire presentation was removed from the mentioning of politics and her time on the Supreme Court, instead concentrating exclusively on her humble western beginnings.
O’Connor justified this important exclusion.
“I figured you know that anyway, don’t you?”
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Spencer Everett at firstname.lastname@example.org.