President Kennedy summoned the White House reporters and photographers to his office late in the afternoon of last March 30 and read them the following statement: "The President of the United States has few more exacting responsibilities than the appointment of Justices to the United States Supreme Court. I am delighted to announce today that Byron White, the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, has accepted appointment as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
"I have known Mr. White for over 20 years," the President continued. "His character, experience and intellectual force qualify him superbly for service on the nation's highest tribunal.... He has excelled in everything he has attempted—in his academic life, in his military service, in his career before the bar and in the Federal Government—and I know that he will excel on the highest court in the land."
Scarcely two weeks after this announcement was made, White was sworn in as the 93rd Justice in the history of the Supreme Court. After he had taken the judicial oath from John F. Davis, the court clerk, White seated himself in the high leather armchair at the far left end of the row of nine Justices and flashed a quick smile at his wife Marion and their elder child, 8-year-old Charles.
This was a rare moment in current history, for it was a rare man who had just been seated as a member of the most powerful and exalted judicial body in Western civilization. To many Americans of middle age or over, the new Justice was something of a curiosity in his new black robes and looking his full 44 years under a thinning cover of gray-brown hair. People of approximately his own age are more likely to think of Justice White looking somewhat younger in the black-and-gold football uniform of the Pittsburgh Pirates or the royal blue of the Detroit Lions or the silver and gold colors of the University of Colorado, twisting and scampering through a broken field of frustrated tacklers. They remember him as Whizzer White, All-America football player of 1937, leading ground-gainer among the NFL pros in 1938 and 1940. Never before has an American athlete of such fame risen to so distinguished a position in later life.
December 10, 1962
Sitting these days in his chambers in the awesomely marbled Supreme Court Building, Justice White is a friendly and seemingly relaxed kind of man. He dresses informally, often in nonmatching trousers and jacket, sometimes in loafers. He still maintains the sinewy dimensions of his college days, 6 feet 2 inches and 190 pounds, and there is power in the abrupt slope of his shoulders. He moves gracefully, with a distinct spring in his step. He gets easily to a first-name basis, and despite his rather stern expression there is humor and warmth in his light-gray eyes as they peer at you through the upper quadrant of his large spectacles.
The office is obviously a workroom, for all its high-ceilinged, paneled dignity. Large, comfortable leather-covered furniture beckons visitors. His broad, glass-topped desk is alitter with legal books and reports, their innards already marked for quick reference by the two law clerks who sit in an adjoining office. The only reminder of his youthful triumphs is a shiny tan-and-white football autographed by the current Detroit Lions. The team gave it to White when he was sworn in, and he has put it on a shelf among row on row of legal texts.
The Justice has never been a man who enjoyed talking about himself or seeing his name in print. According to E. Calvert Cheston, a Philadelphia lawyer who spent two years in the intimacy of wartime companionship with White while they were both serving on the staff of Admiral Marc Mitscher, "Byron almost never talked about his exploits or about his family or his past. He had a marvelous sense of humor, and he was damn good company either on the ship or when you went out on a party with him in Pearl. But unless you asked him, he'd never tell you anything about his football. Byron is about one of the humblest guys you'll ever meet."
Several months ago, however, Justice White consented to take some time out of an already overcrowded schedule to try to explain to a persistently curious visitor something of his own impressions of that brief run of years—hardly half a lifetime—that had brought him to the height of athletic fame and then to the height of his profession.
As the Justice began to talk, one's thoughts went to the bare words in the official White House biography, issued at the time of his appointment, which began, "Byron R. [for Raymond] White was born on June 8, 1917 at Fort Collins, Colorado and attended elementary and high school at Wellington, Colorado."
Wellington [White said] is surrounded by a lot of irrigated farmland with a series of reservoirs to supply the water. There were about 350 God-fearing souls living in town when I was growing up. It was a small town—a few stores, one bank, a post office and so on.
My dad's name is Albert White, actually Alpha Albert White, and he was the branch manager for a lumber supply company that had a yard in the town. My dad came from Audubon, Iowa. His parents died when he was very small, and he soon went out West to look around. He went back home to marry my mother, and they moved out to Pueblo for a while, then to Fort Collins and then to Wellington, where they bought a little house in the town.
The big crop in that part of the country was sugar beets, so the prosperity of the people depended largely on irrigation and the federal policy toward sugar. In the late '20s and the early '30s the farmers weren't making much money. There was very little money around Wellington, and I suppose you could say that by the normal standards of today we were all quite poor, although we didn't necessarily feel poor because everyone was more or less the same. Everybody worked for a living. Everybody. Everybody.
You started working early. A friend of mine who lived across the street and I went to work in the beet fields when we were 7 or 8. In the spring you did a thing called blocking and thinning, which was clearing out all but one beet every few inches along the row. They didn't have any machinery for that sort of thing in those days, so you had to do everything by hand. Then twice in the summer you did the handhoeing of the weeds, and in the fall you helped with the harvest. School always let out early in May so the kids could get out and work. Then we had what was called the "beet holiday" in the fall when school would let out for two weeks while we harvested the beets.
We might make a dollar a day or maybe even $2. When we got a little older we might even work for ourselves. My brother Sam, who was four and a half years older than me, used to contract with the farmers to do the work for so much an acre and then hire other kids to help. You bought your own clothes or whatever you needed with what you earned. It was hard work, but you would grind it out. The Colorado and Southern Railroad, a part of the Burlington, went through Wellington and 14 or 15 of us would work on the section crew at times.
My folks had never gone through high school, but they always put going to school first, ahead of everything. I can't remember when I first thought of going to college. My brother Sam was always going to go to college, and as far as I can remember I was, too.
It was a lot of fun in the days when we were going through school. Wellington was like all those towns around that part of Colorado where there was a big interest in sports. There was a baseball team, a town basketball team, horse racing at the fairs. Lots of sports.
I particularly remember a fellow named John V. Bernard, who was a graduate of the Colorado Aggies, what they now call Colorado State, where he had played football. He came to teach in the high school and coach the football team, and he was looking around for a place to live, so my folks rented him a room in our house. He lived with us for several years, and it was largely through Bernard that I got so interested in high school sports. He was a very bright fellow, and he always saw to it that first you got your schoolwork done.
We had good teams in basketball and football in high school, and once we got into the state tournament in basketball and won a couple of games, so through athletics you got to see a new town and get tested a little. Colorado was also a great softball state, and we had this fellow in town who managed a team for the Elks Club. During the summer we would work in the fields in the daytime and play Softball two or three times a week at night.
As a high school freshman I weighed only a little over 100 pounds, so I was too small for football, but I did some other sports. We all used to swim in the irrigation ditches, and I'd get out in the mountains and go fishing with my dad, who loved to fish. My dad and mother both played a lot of tennis. We had very good track meets around Wellington. I ran, did the hurdles and put the shot and threw the discus. By the time I was a junior or senior in high school I broke my shoulder and couldn't play or practice football for that entire season, but later I was able to play basketball and baseball and track.
When the Depression came along it got harder and harder to make money. I remember one time my brother and I rented some land—20 acres or so—and planted our own crop of beets. One year a fellow named Shorty Scherer and I contracted to harvest some beets for a man who had a farm about three miles out of town. I remember our walking into town on Saturday for the football game, walking along the railroad tracks. We hadn't practiced for a week or so on account of the beet holiday, but everybody showed up and we still played the game on Saturday.
The state university passed out one academic scholarship to the first man in the graduating class of every high school in the state, so you made a noticeable effort to be first. That's how I was able to get to college.
The White House biography of Justice White continues, "He graduated from the University of Colorado in 1938, ranking first in a class of 267.... Mr. White was elected to the Phi Beta Kappa honorary society and was active in college activities, including varsity athletics, and was president of the associated students in 1937-38. In 1937 he was selected as a member of the All-America football team, and in 1954 he was named to the National Football Hall of Fame."
These bald statements envelop some singular feats. For instance, White won his Phi Beta Kappa key in his junior year. He won three varsity letters in football, four in basketball and three in baseball. In his junior year he began to attract a good deal of local publicity as a triple-threat tailback on the football team, and a local sportswriter, Leonard Cahn, christened him with the catchy name of Whizzer.
As Whizzer White, the Justice began to get national publicity, due in no small part to the journalistic attentions of Grantland Rice. During his final season he was the leading ground-gainer and leading scorer in college football, and he averaged 31 yards on each of his punt returns. He scored 13 touchdowns, 19 conversions and kicked the only field goal he attempted. He and his teammates were unbeaten and untied and went to the Cotton Bowl to play Rice on New Year's Day. During the first 10 minutes of that game White ran for a touchdown with an intercepted pass, threw a pass for another Colorado touchdown and kicked two extra points to help give his team a 14-point lead. After that, the heavier Rice squad wore down Colorado and won the game 28-14.
There was a fellow out there at Colorado named Harry Carlson [the Justice went on], who was the dean of men and director of athletics for years and years. He's still out there, and I always try to see him when I go home. He was very soft-spoken and a damn fine baseball coach. He was a very wise fellow, very high-principled. We used to spend a lot of time together fishing; he was a great fisherman.
Carlson had as good an idea as anybody about what competitive athletics are all about. He was a strong fellow for not letting competitive athletics interfere with your work. He didn't think it was much of a problem, really. Carlson believed in hard competition. You did athletics because you enjoyed them. There was no training table, no segregated living. In Carlson's day athletes were accepted and acceptable.
Those were the days of the great college football games like USC and Notre Dame, and you'd read about them in the papers. I remember reading about Dutch Clark playing for Colorado College and all the fabulous stories about him. When I was a freshman in college he was the basketball coach, so I got to know him.
I didn't know what I wanted to be in life when I went to college. My uncle was a lawyer in Audubon, Iowa, and a very good one. My brother and I and my parents drove over to see him a couple of times. I took a great shine to him. My dad was always interested in the law and would have made a fine lawyer himself. He used to like to discuss and argue all kinds of things with my brother and me.
By the time I got to college my brother was already very well known, so it was fairly easy for me to get around. Sam was a good athlete and had played end on the football team. He was spending a year there doing postgraduate work when I arrived as a freshman.
I started off studying chemistry and mathematics and science, but by the end of my second year I'd switched over to the humanities and economics. I quit chemistry just at the point where you've done all the boring memory work and it begins to get interesting. I have a feeling that if I'd kept on with it I'd have ended up as a doctor. My parents wanted me to be what I wanted to be. They had a pretty simple prescription for living. You worked hard, did as well as you could and were considerate of other people's feelings.
I lived in a rooming house when I first went to college and went out for athletics, and I pledged to Phi Gamma Delta, the same fraternity my brother belonged to. I was 17 then and I'd go out a little, but I didn't go over to the fraternity much. I was waiting on table at a sorority to earn some money, and by the time I was through work at night I wanted to study at home.
I had a hard time with my knee in my sophomore year. It was swelling up like a balloon, and I could only play part of two games. I decided I wouldn't let them operate, that if I couldn't play athletics then what the hell. Howard Waite, the trainer, helped a lot. Every day he would tape it up, and I was reasonably sure in my own mind that the knee was fairly secure. So was the doctor and so was the trainer.
When you have a bum knee like that you develop a protective reaction. Anytime anyone got within 100 yards of me, I'd make damn sure my knee was bent. You can't get hurt as long as it's bent. I started every basketball game that sophomore year, and by the time basketball was over I knew the knee was O.K. I didn't go out for football in the spring, but I played baseball, and after the baseball season I put on my football cleats and worked out with the knee.
By the fall my knee was all right, except if I kicked the ball the normal height my knee gave me trouble, so I had to learn to kick low. It was great for accuracy and kicking into the wind but not much good for getting down under the punts. Everybody thought I was through and didn't expect me to have much of a football year, but I really didn't think about it. I figured they wouldn't miss me. They had Kayo Lam, a very good tailback at Colorado who was a senior when I was a sophomore. He's now the graduate manager.
In my junior year, when my knee turned out to be O.K., I had a pretty good year. That was when all the publicity started, and I had a little difficulty adjusting to it. I thought it was exaggerated, and besides, it set me off from the other people. As much as anything else, you never felt you were alone anyplace. You couldn't go anywhere without somebody wanting to come up and talk to you. But I figured these newspaper people knew what they were doing and it was their job to do it, so I went along with it as best I could.
Our coach, Bunnie Oakes, knew as much football as any coach I've ever had. You may remember he played on the same team at Illinois as Red Grange. Oakes put great store in the punt and the punt return, and he saw no reason why you couldn't play basketball with a football, catch it while you were running at full speed.
I spent a half hour to 45 minutes every night practicing on catching punts at full speed, learning how to go to the ball at the last possible second. I remember we beat Utah that year 31-7, and I think I returned three punts for touchdowns in that game and maybe set up a couple more with runbacks.
It was in my senior year that the basketball team came East to play in the National Invitation Tournament in Madison Square Garden. We beat a couple of good teams, but we were badly beaten by Temple in the finals. The New York newspapers put out quite a bit of publicity about the team and about me. I figured it the same way I always had—it was their job and they probably knew what they were doing. But I didn't like it, even so.
I made a couple of darned good friends on that trip to New York, people who had grown up in Colorado and now worked in New York. The Colorado people put on a banquet for us and took us on a tour of the Stock Exchange and other sights and were really friendly to us. That was the first time I really had a chance to see anything of New York people and find out about how they take everything so seriously. Whatever they do they've got to know everything there is to know about it.
That spring I didn't play baseball. I'd had about enough of competitive athletics. Thinking back on it, though, I think maybe I enjoyed my three years of baseball more than I did any other sport. When spring comes around you're ready for a blow after all those months of football and basketball. I was usually pretty run-down, and a couple of times I even came down with the flu and had to go home to recuperate. Except in my senior year I was always ready to get out in the sunshine and horse around playing a relaxed game like baseball.
The White House biography continues, "Mr. White was selected as a Rhodes scholar from the state of Colorado in December 1937 and attended Oxford University, Oxford, England from January 1939 to October 1939.... Mr. White played professional football with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1938 and with the Detroit Lions in 1940 and 1941."
I finally finished up college [Justice White said] with a couple of B's and all the rest A's, and in my senior year I felt I'd done well enough to try for a Rhodes scholarship. I hadn't consciously worked in that direction; in fact, I don't think I thought any more about my grades in college than I had in high school. I guess I just got in the habit of working.
My brother was already over at Oxford studying on a Rhodes scholarship, and he thought it would be extremely worthwhile for me to do so. Several lawyers around Colorado had done it, and they all thought that since our system of law was derived from the English common law, I could study three years of law in England and at most take an extra year in the U.S. before taking my bar exams.
By that time I'd given up all thoughts of playing pro football. Art Rooney, who owned the Pittsburgh Pirates, offered me a good piece of cash, and he sent Johnny Blood, who played and coached for the Pirates at the time, out to see me. But I decided I wouldn't play if it meant losing a year at Oxford. My brother talked to some people at Oxford about my coming late, and when he found out it would be all right for me to start in January, I arranged to play that season for Pittsburgh.
Indeed he did play professional football. The Pittsburgh Pirates, who had made White their first choice in the draft, were so anxious to get him they paid him $15,000, the highest salary ever earned by a pro in a single season until that time. White repaid their generosity by leading the league in rushing with 567 yards. No other rookie had ever before led the league in any department, and White did it with a last-place team. After skipping the 1939 season to study abroad, White played in 1940 and 1941 for the Detroit Lions, who had bought his contract from the Pirates. In the first of these two seasons he again led the league in rushing with a mediocre team; only the remarkable Cliff Battles had ever before led the league twice as a runner.
I liked pro ball better than the college game [the Justice said]. In the professional league there is no such thing as a soft game. The money part of it isn't nearly as important as some people make out. Before you sign up you do a certain amount of haggling about the salary, but when the season starts and the whistle blows you play for the same reason you always play games. You play to win.
There were some stories in the papers when I started with Pittsburgh that the team wouldn't block for me because I was making more money than anyone else. As far as I'm concerned, that was just a figment of some people's imaginations, or maybe some people thought they observed it because we were having a lousy season. I never knew anything about it, and anyway you would never make a yard unless those guys blocked for you. I roomed with Ed Karpovich, who played tackle and end, and I knew he would never have put up with that sort of thing.
After football I went to Oxford. There was some question about whether I would go out for a sport like Rugby over there. This man came up to me one day and suggested very clearly that they didn't want me to play athletics at Oxford because I was a professional. I would have had to use another dressing room from the amateurs.
Thinking about it, the Justice burst out laughing.
It was very enjoyable studying at Oxford [he said] and very different from our type of education. They put you completely on your own—you go to school for a couple of months, then take a six weeks' vacation. If you've got any kind of intellectual steam at all you can get a lot of work done.
On one of those vacations several other fellows and I rented the top part of a villa on the French Riviera. I'd spend maybe half or three-quarters of the day on the books, and then we'd horse around the rest of the time. That summer I borrowed a car from a South African fellow and toured around France and Germany and then settled down for a couple of months in Munich, where I rented a room from an old German woman.
I spent those months studying Roman law and trying to improve my German, reading the newspapers and talking to the Germans. There were a couple of German fellows I horsed around with, and much of the time we would hang around the Hofbr√§u House, where a lot of American tourists used to go. Most of the young Germans I knew had already been in the army and were subject to recall. Naturally, there was a great deal of debating about war, because it was after the Munich settlement and on everybody's mind. When a couple of those German guys got recalled, that was a pretty good sign that the war was about to start.
The south Germans are a friendly and attractive people, but there was never any doubt that they would fight for Germany if a war came.
The first time I remember meeting President Kennedy was that summer in Munich. He was traveling around with some friends of his, and I think we had a couple of evenings together. I'd met him earlier that year at the American Embassy in London, because his father, the Ambassador, had invited the Rhodes scholars to several parties at the Embassy.
When the war started they called all the Rhodes scholars back to England, and finally they decided it would be better if we all went home. I think your thought at the time was that sooner or later your country was going to get in it, so you wanted to get home and sec what your country was going to do.
Continuing with the White House biography, we read, "Mr. White attended Yale University Law School from October 1939 to October 1941 and from February 1946 to November 1946, receiving an LL.B. degree magna cum laude on November 9, 1946. In 1940 he won the Edgar M. Cullen prize for the highest scholastic grades. Upon graduation, he was awarded the Order of the Coif, a legal scholastic honorary award.... During the war Mr. White served in the United States Navy and was honorably discharged as a Lieutenant Commander, USNR, in 1945. He was employed as a law clerk to Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of the United States Supreme Court, 1946-47. He then joined the law firm of Newton, Davis, Grant and Henry, now Lewis, Grant and Davis in Denver, Colorado. He became a partner and remained in this firm until January 1961. He was appointed Deputy Attorney General, his present position, by the President on January 24, 1961."
We all had various choices as to where we would go to study when we got home from England [Justice White continued] and a friend of mine and I decided to go to Yale Law School. I didn't play pro football that fall of 1939. Tim Mara, of the New York Giants, came up to New Haven to talk to me about it, but I said no. I thought I'd better stick to the lawbooks.
The next year Freddie Mandel, who had just bought the Detroit Lions, got in touch with me, as he had just made an arrangement with Art Rooney to buy my contract. At first I was not going to play at all, but then when it looked as if I couldn't finish Yale before I was drafted I decided to take out a semester from law school and earn money. I played that 1940 season with Detroit and made up the courses I missed at law school by studying at the University of Colorado the following summer.
Yale Law School was the most stimulating intellectual experience I had had up to that time. There was a fairly small enrollment and a relatively large staff, so you had a great opportunity to be exposed to some of the finest legal minds in the country. It should be pointed out, however, that this is in no way a reflection on Oxford; I just wasn't there long enough to get the full benefit of what it had to offer. At Yale they had a very exciting approach to the law and its relationship to the world around you. The law was interpreted in relation to the social and economic aspects of our society. After my first year there, I was chosen for the Law Review, but I went off to play football and make some money instead.
I played a second season of football for Detroit in 1941, but neither of those seasons was a great success. We finished down around the middle of the standings. I did make some good friends with whom I've been close ever since.
My draft number was coming up during my second season at Detroit, so I tried to get into the Marines, but they flunked me on the color-blind test when they discovered I was slightly green-blind. I couldn't fly because of my eyes, so I had decided to enlist or get drafted when I discovered that I could get a waiver on my eye test from naval intelligence. So I signed up with them. Just after our last game of the season I was driving home to Colorado, and as I was driving along the Outer Drive in Chicago I turned on the radio and heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. I was going to stop and see some friends in Chicago, but when I heard the news I just kept right on driving through to home.
Early in the war I was the intelligence officer with a PT boat squadron based in the Solomons, and it was my job to brief the fellows on the intelligence side of their missions before they went out and interview them when they came back and coordinate their missions with the flyers. It was out there that I met Kennedy again, and one of the jobs I had to do was write the report on the accident when his boat was sunk. I remember riding on his boat a couple of times—that is, the boat they gave him after he had lost his first boat. As a result of these encounters with the President, I began to get a strong feeling about what kind of fellow he was. He proved himself to be very intelligent in the way he ran his boat, as well as cool and courageous under fire. I concluded he was a pretty solid sort of person.
Although few of the wartime histories or memoirs record the fact and Justice White would be the last person to even admit it, the truth remains that it was his perspicacity and quick thinking and that of a fellow intelligence officer on Admiral Mitscher's staff that saved Admiral William F. Halsey from a most humiliating experience during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. After the first day of this crucial naval engagement, Halsey took the Third Fleet and its fast carriers on a chase to the north in search of a Japanese carrier force, leaving General MacArthur's invasion troops exposed to a pincers attack by two other Japanese task forces. Throughout the night and well into the next morning, the U.S. planes searched in vain for the Japanese carriers, which, having decoyed Halsey northward, had disappeared from sight. Of all the officers on both Halsey's and Mitscher's staffs, only White and his immediate superior, Lieut. Cheston, kept insisting that the Japanese might be retreating northeast, instead of northwest where the futile search was concentrated. At the last moment, when the whole foray seemed doomed to failure. White and his colleague persuaded one of their senior officers to detach a few fighter planes for a search to the northeast. They found the Japanese carriers only 100 miles away, and Mitscher's dive bombers and torpedo planes sank four of them. Halsey thus survived his unfortunate decision without complete futility.
It's hard to say that you had a good time in the war [White reminisced], but, on the other hand, you couldn't say it was dull or purposeless. It's an experience I'd just as soon not have had but, having had it, I have to admit it was a very great experience. Many of the people I dealt with were extremely able, and I was terribly impressed with a lot of them—particularly Admiral Mitscher and Arleigh Burke and several of the officers I worked with on Mitscher's staff—especially Cheston [he was now a lieutenant commander] and Lieut. Commander Joseph Eggert of New York. Since then they have become two of my very best friends in the world.
I was fortunate in serving in the Navy, particularly on the carriers, but it was those guys in the foxholes and those guys in the airplanes who had to do the dirty work. Nonetheless, there were times in the war when you felt that you, too, were making some kind of a contribution.
When the war was over I went back to Yale and finished my last year of law school and got married [to Marion Stearns of Denver]. That spring a friend of mine named Carl Price, who was going to be a law clerk for Chief Justice Vinson, suggested to me that I, too, apply for a job as one of his clerks. Price got me an interview in Washington, and I got the job, but I still had some time to finish up in New Haven. So I spent the next few months commuting, half a week here in Washington and half a week there.
Before the war I was reasonably sure I wanted to practice law in New York, because that's where so much of the really significant law is handled. By the time the war was over I wasn't so excited with the idea of living in the East. That was one of the reasons I wanted to come down here and work for Chief Justice Vinson; I wanted a year to think things over.
I think one of the reasons I wanted to go back to Denver was that it was growing so rapidly after the war. It seemed like an exciting thing to begin your career in a town that was growing that fast. In a small law firm you would be in a position to come to grips with a great variety of significant problems that you might never meet in a larger eastern firm. Also, living in a pleasant environment like Denver seemed a little more important to me than it had a few years earlier. I must have been getting old and soft.
I went to work in a small law firm, now called Lewis, Grant and Davis. It had a typical practice for that kind of town—just the general practice of the law—and it gave you a wide variety of experience. By the time I left we had about 20 lawyers in the firm, and I'm sure it's still growing. I did considerable trial work and became quite involved in antitrust and tax law. I also took part in community activity and got into politics.
I was in local politics from the first moment I arrived in Denver. I served as a precinct committeeman every year for several years, and I was a ward captain after that. Every year after 1947 I worked on someone's committee. It might have been a judge, a candidate for the state legislature or someone running for local office. I worked at it, and I really got to know those people. The only reason I had to give it up was that Quigg Newton, my law partner, who is now president of the University of Colorado, got in a heated primary campaign with John Carroll, later a Senator from Colorado, who was a friend of mine and whom I'd supported. I didn't feel it was right for me to get involved in that campaign in view of my personal relationships with these men.
For the first and only time, Justice White's voice rose, filling the room. There was heat in his words.
When people turn up their noses at politics [he declared] it's a great mistake. It merely serves to perpetuate the very thing that people criticize in politics—that it's a dirty business.
Everyone in this country has an obligation to take part in politics. That's the foundation, the most important principle, on which our system is built. If our system is to work, people must intelligently elect their representatives in the legislatures and the Congress and their local government. And the best way to do it is to get their feet wet in politics.
After my wife and I had settled down in Denver our life was just about like everyone else's in a town of that size. I played squash, which I'd taken up at Yale, and I went fishing four or five times every summer, and on one of those trips for a week or 10 days. I took up golf about eight years ago, and I like to play it although I'm not very good—get around in the high 80s if I'm lucky.
We had two children—Nancy, who's 4 now, and Barney, who's 9. His real name is Charles Byron. Once during the early part of the Korean war I went to Japan as a member of a study team that was appointed to investigate the close-support problem of the Air Force. Another time I wrecked myself when I ran into a wall playing squash, so that I really couldn't even walk. I had to have two of the joints in my spine fused, but the result of the operation was very fortunate. It's no longer the back I used to have, but I can't think of anything I am unable to do.
I had a good, satisfactory law practice and a pretty decent life. One day in the summer of 1959 while I was living in Denver, I was driving back from an AAU track meet in Boulder and I got to thinking about the coming presidential campaign. I'd been reading what I could about the various candidates and, shuffling through the names of these guys in my mind, I began to feel that Jack Kennedy would be my preference.
I think I'd seen Kennedy only once since I left Washington in 1947. He had come out to Denver to give a talk before the Social Science Foundation of the University of Denver, which then conducted one of the most successful lecture series in the country. But there was no opportunity on that occasion to spend any time with him.
I discussed the Kennedy matter seriously with various people and agreed to get into the act and head up a Colorado Committee for Kennedy before the 1960 Democratic Convention. That was all I ever intended to do. But after the convention, Bobby Kennedy asked me if I would head up the National Citizens Committee for Kennedy, which I agreed to do.
After the election, when the President asked me to take the job as Deputy Attorney General, I thought it would be an interesting experience for a couple of years and that possibly I could make some contribution, but I still fully intended to come back to Colorado, so we kept our house in Denver. I was completely entrenched in the law business in Denver and would have been satisfied to stay there the rest of my life. I had a good profession and a good life, and no one should ever have to make apologies about being a lawyer.
And then along came this Supreme Court appointment.
Thinking back on my days in Colorado, the thing that stands out in my mind is that I was very happy growing up, and I figure I owe a lot of people a lot of things. I was lucky to have gone to a school where I had good teachers. I was lucky to be among superior people when I was in college. I was lucky in athletics to have good coaches who had some sense about sports and what they mean. I was lucky to have fellows and teammates I played with that I liked; no one ever got anywhere in football or basketball or baseball by himself. I was lucky to have professors in college and law school whom I admired very much. I was lucky later in Denver to be working with lawyers of extraordinary talent; and not only did they have talent, they were successful. I had the good fortune to be in Colorado when the Kennedys were looking for someone to work with them.
Of course I realize that my son will grow up in a much different way than I did, but I don't think that makes any great difference. I don't see that there's any particular advantage in having spent your time at physical labor as a boy when spending your time in some other useful way can contribute to your development just as much. There are as many opportunities to work hard today as there ever were. It might even be harder to grow up today than it was a generation ago. It seems to me that there is not the open society that there was then, and it's harder to bust out of the structure than it was in those days.
Digging into the ground with your hands is not essential to a useful life. I had a very good time doing it, and I look back on it with some fondness. But I'm sure it was no more rewarding or valuable than a lot of other things a boy can do. Growing up the way I did is just simpler and more uncomplicated than growing up in a city.
The fundamental reason for playing competitive sports is to get some experience. Sports constantly make demands on the participant for top performance, and they develop integrity, self-reliance and initiative. They teach you a lot about working in groups without being unduly submerged in the group.
Probably the best reason for taking part in contact sports is that you like them. Some people who are incipiently insecure have built themselves into pretty admirable people through the confidence they've gained from competing in contact sports, however. It has given them the shot in the arm they needed, and they've carried it on into other activities.
But there are many ways to get the same kind of experience. Dramatics, for instance, or music; or working on the school paper, which is certainly competitive and has that aspect of performing before the public.
The main point is getting some experience. The experienced people are better than the inexperienced. Think how it is in that tennis game or in that race or whatever it is. When the whistle blows you have only a limited amount of time to do what you have to do. You either do it then or you don't do it at all.