Revisiting Sandra Day O'Connor's StoryCorps Interview With Her Son

By Lauren Gilger, Mark Brodie, Kathy Ritchie
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2018 - 1:28pm
Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2018 - 2:47pm

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Sandra Day O
Annette Flores/KJZZ
Sandra Day O'Connor at a StoryCorps event in Phoenix in February 2013.

MARK BRODIE: This week retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced she is withdrawing from public life. In a letter, O'Connor announced she has been diagnosed with the beginning stages of dementia and possibly Alzheimer's disease. The 88 year old said short term memory problems and hip issues means she's staying close to her home in Phoenix and as KJZZ's Kathy Ritchie reports, getting an early diagnosis is critical to planning for the future.

KATHY RITCHIE: Often people receive a dementia diagnosis when they're in the moderate stage of the disease. According to Jan Dougherty, a special projects consultant with Banner Alzheimer's Institute. So getting an early diagnosis is key. Dougherty says a person in the early stages can still make many decisions about their overall care. She says besides choosing who will make medical or financial decisions when they no longer can.

JAN DOUGHERTY: There's also decisions around if I can no longer live in my home or if my family member, whoever that might be, spouse or the adult child, can no longer care for me. What kind of care would I prefer?

RITCHIE: In a letter, 88-year-old O'Connor said that her dementia had progressed since she was first diagnosed and she would no longer participate in public life. Kathy Ritchie, KJZZ News, Phoenix.

LAUREN GILGER: The announcement from this trailblazing woman has reminded us all in Arizona of her contributions to the state. She has been a lawyer, a judge and a diplomat. Before joining the Supreme Court, she was a judge on the States Court of Appeals and served in leadership in the Arizona Senate. Then in 1981 President Ronald Reagan announced she was his nominee to the nation's highest court. She went on to become the first female justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

BRODIE: In 2013, KJZZ recorded local stories at the story core mobile booth and one of those was a conversation between Justice O'Connor and her son, Scott. Here is their conversation.

SCOTT O'CONNOR: What was the very first indication that you may have been seriously under consideration for the court under the Reagan administration?

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: Well, it was when the president and his attorney general sent a team of three people out to Arizona to start looking at my track record in Arizona.

SCOTT O'CONNOR: What was it like getting a phone call from the president?

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: I was sitting in my office in the state Capitol. At that time I was on the Court of Appeals and the phone rang and it was the White House and the operator said, "Judge O'Connor?" Yes. "Just a moment. I have a call for you from the president of the United States." And so I took the call. It was President Reagan. And he said, "Sandra?" Yes, Mr. President. "I'd like to put your name in for a Justice of the Supreme Court, is that alright with you?" And what do you say? What do you do? It was stunning, stunning.

SCOTT O'CONNOR: How scared were you?

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: Well, I was concerned.

SCOTT O'CONNOR: Being asked to take a tough job?

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: I was concerned because it's wonderful to be the first to do something. I've been first in several ways already but I didn't want to be the last. I didn't want to be the last woman to serve. And unless you could do the job well you might be.

SCOTT O'CONNOR: Now to make this a little bit more personal. For me, the day you had your interview with President Reagan at the White House you put on a really fabulous suit. You know a skirt and a matching jacket and there were lots of pictures taken of you that day, both in color and black and white. That I don't think you've ever looked better. You talk about getting up for the interview. Those are my favorite pictures of you from your entire life.

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: But I was younger I looked better!

SCOTT O'CONNOR: You look so — well.

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: I'm too old now!

SCOTT O'CONNOR: Well, I like those pictures even more than I did the pictures of say, from your wedding day. I just, you were so confident and beautiful in those pictures with President Reagan it was just remarkable to see how together and composed you were for something that would have reduced anybody else to a bundle of nerves.

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: Well, I'm sure I was too. But it was wonderful to meet him.

SCOTT O'CONNOR: You grew up on a ranch in the middle of nowhere where nobody would have ever had any expectation to go on to any kind of fame at that level and be widely considered one of the most influential women in the world. Who could have imagined that? That really cemented for me that America's promise is true. Thanks for doing this today. And I also want to say that you've been just an incredible, wonderful mother and grandmother.

SANDRA DAY O'CONNOR: I love my family. Thank you, Scott.

BRODIE: That's former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor speaking with her son Scott as part of story core Phoenix in 2013.

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