Sandra Day O'Connor

Sandra Day O’Connor

by Rebecca Henderson

My first recollection of hearing the name “Sandra Day O’Connor” was when President Ronald Reagan nominated her to the Supreme Court of the United States; I would imagine this is the shared recollection of most Americans old enough to remember that historic date. I no longer remember what Justice O’Connor said following the Reagan announcement, but I remember thinking, “This is a lady I would like to know.” Little did I know at the time of the announcement in 1981 that I would indeed get to meet Justice O’Connor in 1998.

Fast forward until that year. It was my great privilege to be on the board of directors of the Association of Junior Leagues, International. Each year, the Association honors an accomplished member of the Junior League with the Mary Harriman Award, who founded the Junior League of the City of New York in 1901. In 1998, the Association presented Justice O’Connor with the Junior League’s highest and most revered award.

In 1998, one of the initiatives of all Junior Leagues was the awareness and reduction of domestic violence. Sadly, at that time, statistics showed that between one out of every three and one out of every four women in the United States had been, were, or will be victims of domestic violence.  In the intervening years, those numbers have not moved.

As a survivor of domestic violence, the Association asked me to address the 1700 delegates at our annual conference. I prefaced my remarks by saying, “If you’re not a victim of domestic violence, the woman sitting to your left or right, or in front of you or behind you is. Domestic violence affects you, be it directly or indirectly.”

Working within our work group, my committee and I developed several key strategies to share with Junior Leagues that would hopefully impact the prevalence of domestic violence.  Some of the ways would take lots of time and money (e.g., building and staffing a safe house), while others were more modest in terms of resources (developing and placing flyers on the backs of restaurant restroom doors and department store dressing room doors with helpful information for domestic violence victims was one way; conducting classes for hairdressers and massage therapists to spot bruises and signs of being abused was another way).

Rebecca Henderson and Sandra Day O'Connor

Fast forward again, several hours. The board hosted a private reception for Justice O’Connor; prior to that, an etiquette coach provided lessons on how to address the Justice.  As it was my turn to have a five-minute conversation with Justice O’Connor, she told me how much my remarks about domestic violence that morning had meant to her; some of her closest friends had been victims. We chatted about the topic, and I said, “Justice O’Connor, thank you for sharing your thoughts. It has been an honor, and it’s been so nice to meet you.”  She replied by saying, “It’s been my honor. And my friends just call me Sandy.”

For those reasons and more, I was thrilled when Lazy B: Growing up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest by Justice O’Connor and her brother, H. Alan Day, was published in early 2002. I can’t imagine growing up on a cattle ranch of three hundred square miles, but the siblings were talented authors and made each scene come to life. More than two decades later, I would recommend reading the book.

More recently, I read Nina Totenberg’s Dinners with Ruth, which chronicles the journalist’s friendship with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I thought the book would center around lavish dinner parties inside the Beltway; while some of those are indeed mentioned, the book places emphasis on the power of friendships, especially those of women. Sandra O’Connor, while the political opposite of Justice Ginsburg, was mentioned more than a few times in the book. The journalist demonstrated Justice O’Connor’s sense of humor on more than several occasions. This, too, is a book I highly recommend for those seeking to learn more about the inside work not only of the Supreme Court, but also the friendships and relationships of those who were on the Court.

Rebecca Henderson Headshot
Rebecca Henderson has over 40 years of volunteer leadership experience. She chaired the Sesquicentennial Commission for the City of Johnson City, Tennessee, which segued into her position as daily columnist of the “Today in Johnson City History Column” with the Johnson City Press.

Serving with Significancea book for leadership level community volunteers, is her first book; her second is Thoughts on Turning Sixty-FiveShe loves to read and has turned that passion, along with her writing skills, into freelance editing. She enjoys cooking and is considering sharing her favorite recipes in a cookbook.

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