Husband of retired justice O’Connor dies
John J. O’Connor III, 79, an Arizona lawyer and civic leader who became active in Washington’s social and charitable circles after his wife, Sandra Day O’Connor, became the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, died Wednesday in Phoenix. He had Alzheimer’s disease.
As a lawyer, O’Connor specialized in business and real estate law and commercial litigation. He was a partner at one of Phoenix’s largest firms, Fennemore, Craig, von Ammon & Udall, before moving to Washington when his wife was confirmed to the high court in 1981. He continued to practice law with the firms Miller & Chevalier and Bryan Cave, all the while maintaining a low public profile.
His degenerative condition was diagnosed nearly two decades ago but worsened considerably by the early 2000s, reportedly prompting his wife’s retirement from her lifetime appointment in 2006.
Sandra Day O’Connor spoke about the demands of caring for someone with Alzheimer’s, including unexpected, sometimes bittersweet developments as her husband began to lose his ability to recognize his family. He formed romantic attachments with other patients at an assisted-care center in Arizona, and this transformed him, the former justice said, from someone who had been depressed and introverted into a much happier person.
She told the New York Times, “He was in a cottage, and there was a woman who kind of attached herself to him. It was nice for him to have someone there who was sometimes holding his hand and to keep him company.”