Judge Bright looks back

From 1979 to 1981 I served as a law clerk to Judge Myron Bright of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Judge Bright was appointed to the bench by President Johnson in 1968. He lived to be the longest-serving federal judge in the United States, having heard some 7,000 cases before he died last month at the age of 97. He was a remarkable man. I wrote about him briefly here following his death on December 12.

Judge Bright sent out his annual holiday update to law clerks in November. I infer he was aware that death was approaching from his retrospective tone:

Dear Friends,

As I look back over 97 years, I am

— very grateful to all of you who played such an important part in my life. You, as one of my great friends, along with my loving family pictured, have helped make my life a truly great one;

–proud of my service to my country–4 years as a soldier in World War II and 48-plus years as a federal judge;

–most of all, thankful for your friendship.

I send you warmest regards in the new year.

Judge Bright followed that up with a message he had mailed to each of us about two weeks before he died:

Dear Friends,

I want to share with you a recent development regarding my health. My doctors have concluded that I have a condition known as aortic valve stenosis which leads to congestive heart failure. For a younger person, surgery might be a good alternative but I am 97 and neither my doctors nor I believe it is a good idea. I am relatively comfortable and in good care. I have the support of a wonderful family…

I wish I could send an individual note to each of you to express my appreciation for being such an important part of my life but, under the circumstances, that will not be possible. I treasure my memories of you and take great satisfaction in seeing what you have become after our time together. Having been alive for almost a century, I think I have developed a very good idea of what things are important in life. These include setting the right moral compass and being true to one’s ideals. You seem to have done so and, for that, I am immensely grateful.

I am also thankful to all of you for being part of what I regard as my larger family. To have known you when you were (and some still are) young lawyers and to have enjoyed our friendships over the years are among the privileges of my life.

To each of you my fondest wishes and best regards.

If I have ever met a more unforgettable character I can’t think of him offhand.

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