Almost every week, from the late 1980s until his death from thyroid cancer in 2005, U.S. Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was in touch with Herman J. Obermayer, a former editor and publisher of the Northern Virginia Sun daily newspaper. Late in their lives, after a chance encounter on a tennis court, the two became the best of friends. This unlikely association between the journalist and the justice gave Obermayer a unique window into a very private man.
Bill Rehnquist’s public demeanor and appearance were best described as unexceptional. Good-looking but not movie-star handsome, he stood out in a crowd chiefly because of his height: 6 foot 2. The wisps of hair surrounding his baldness had a brownish-rusty hue. Always careful about his diet, he never became paunchy. He wore large-lens, fashionable glasses, and his easy laugh showed a mouth full of old-fashioned gold crowns. He dressed appropriately but uninterestingly: button-down shirts, unobtrusive ties, Hush Puppies-type shoes, work pants (but never jeans) on weekends, and off-the-rack suits that he usually bought from lower-end mall haberdashers.
A hearty greeting accompanied a weak handshake. At belly-laugh movies, he had no reticence about audibly guffawing. While his lifelong back problems did not seriously compromise his posture, he was slightly pigeon-toed and walked with a discernible lope.