Newest Issue - March 2010

The William Rehnquist You Didn't Know

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.

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