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William H. Rehnquist: 1924-2005

Rehnquist laid to rest amid memories of integrity, humor

Rehnquist laid to rest amid memories of integrity, humor

By wire services
Published September 8, 2005

WASHINGTON - President Bush led the nation in a final tribute to William H. Rehnquist on Wednesday, remembering the 16th chief justice as the Supreme Court's steady leader and a man of lifetime integrity.

With more laughs than tears, family and friends spoke poignantly of Rehnquist's final days - when he cracked jokes in the face of death - and proudly of the imprint of his 33 years on the high court.

"We remember the integrity and the sense of duty that he brought to every task before him," Bush told the funeral audience during a two-hour service at historic St. Matthew's Cathedral. Rehnquist was a steady, guiding presence on the court, Bush said of the nation's 16th chief justice who died last Saturday at 80.

"In every chapter of his life, William Rehnquist stood apart for his powerful intellect and clear convictions," Bush said. "He carried himself with dignity, but without pretense. Like Ronald Reagan, the president who elevated him to chief justice, he was kindly and decent, and there was not an ounce of self-importance about him."

The service drew Washington's power elite, including the eight Supreme Court justices and John Roberts, a former Rehnquist law clerk whom Bush has nominated to succeed him.

Rehnquist, a veteran of the Army Air Forces in World War II, was buried in a private ceremony in Arlington National Cemetery in a grave not far from those of several other justices. His headstone was not yet engraved. From the grave site, where his wife, Natalie Cornell Rehnquist, was buried in 1991, the Capitol is visible.

The chief justice was leader of the "Rehnquist five" who often favored states' rights over federal government power, and was one of those voting to end the 2000 presidential recount that led to Bush becoming president. There was only passing mention of that during the service.

Instead, friends and family talked about his penchant for wagers, jokes, sports, history, tennis and competition of any type.

"If you valued your money, you would be careful about betting with the chief. He usually won," said Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who dated Rehnquist when both were in law school together in the 1940s.

Comparing Rehnquist to an expert horse rider, O'Connor said, "He guided us with loose reins and used the spurs only rarely." He was, she added, "courageous at the end of his life just as he was throughout his life," even joking with doctors in a final visit to the hospital.

The service, scripted in part by the chief justice before his death, had a light touch. A granddaughter talked about learning poker tips from him. A son said his dad "could forgive almost anything in a person except being humorless."

"No one smelled more roses than my dad," James Rehnquist told the funeral audience.

Rehnquist's flag-draped casket was brought to the church from the court, where he had lain in repose since Tuesday morning.

The family of Rehnquist, a Lutheran, requested St. Matthew's primarily because of the space the Roman Catholic church provided.

At the service, Nancy Rehnquist Spears joked about her father's history quizzing and his love of games and gambling. She recalled him promising $5 if she could tell the history buff when Queen Elizabeth died.

"1603," she answered.

"There was silence, then an awful curse," she recalled.

Flags, including the one above the court, were at half-staff in honor of Rehnquist.

Information from the Associated Press and Knight Ridder news service was used in this report.

[Last modified September 8, 2005, 01:50:14]

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