Helen Wright Text of Interview OnlyDawn Bellinger2022-05-23T16:07:08-04:00
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The following interview is conducted on behalf of the Oral History Project at the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The interviewee is Helen Patton Wright. The interviewer is Susan Laura Carney. The interview took place at the home of Mrs. Wright on Saturday, October 28, 1995 at 1:OO PM. Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: I am asked to give a brief biographical statement of myself. My name is Susan Carney, and I am a lawyer with Bredhoff & Kaiser, here in Washington. I have been a member of the District of Columbia Bar since 1979 and I am 1977 graduate of Harvard Law School. I was born in Boston. Mrs. Wright, I am glad to be with you today. Nice to have you. I thought I’d start by asking some general questions about your background. I know you were born here in Washington. Native Washingtonians are rare. I am such a rarity. In what year were you born? 1919. Could you tell me something about your early years and your family here? I am a twin. I had a sister born on the same day, ten minutes ahead of me. My family was living on Columbia Road at the time in a very nice apartment building. I had an older brother, 3% years older. When we were about two we then moved out to Chevy Chase, D.C. and it was wilderness then, a semi-attached house. Lovely oak trees lining the streets. A golf course which had been abandoned provided much fun for us — picnics and climbing trees and picking berries and collecting ticks. I grew -1- up there. I went to the Cobb School for two years. That was a little school out on Grafton Street in Chevy Chase, Maryland. Then, Ginny and I transferred to Gunston Hall and went all the way through lower grades and through high school — graduating in 1936. Ms. Carney: And your mother and your father? Mrs. Wright: My mother was born in Walla-Walla, Washington, but grew up in Seattle. My father was born in Degraf, Ohio but grew up in Sidney. He went to Western Reserve, now called Case Western Reserve, and got an engineering degree and joined the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey. He was stationed out in Bremerton, Washington, on a survey ship where he met my mother and they were married in 1911. My brother was born in Seattle — but, to back up a minute: One of the interesting things about their early years was that it was at a time my father was captain of the Explorer, which was a survey ship. It was at a time when wives were allowed to go on board with the captain. They sailed all through the waters of Alaska surveying there. Mother took up photography and really got quite good at it. She not only took pictures, but she developed them on the ship. Had her own dark room. In my early years there were wonderful stories of Eskimos looking at my mother as a real oddity. They’d never seen a white woman before. Since those years, I guess this is the place to add it, they named a bay for my father and two islands out in the Aleutians. Ms. Carney: What was your father’s name? Mrs. Wright: My father was Raymond Stanton Patton. My mother was Virginia Mitchell Patton. Ms. Carney: Your twin was named after your mother? -2- Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Yes. Ginny was Virginia Mitchell and mine was Helen Mitchell. I was named after a sister of mother’s who died when she was twelve years old of polio in Kentucky. My grandmother had brought her east and she was stricken with polio and died. So mother was very determined to have Helen live on a bit, perhaps, in me. You were educated here in Washington at the Cobb School and then Gunston Hall? I went into Gunston in the third grade. I went all through the lower school and then Gunston had four years of high school and it also had a junior college of two years. I went on to Sweet Briar after graduating from high school. Did your twin join you at Sweet Briar? No. Ginny went on to Kingsmith Studios in Washington. You were at Sweet Briar for – – ? Two years. What caused you to leave Sweet Briar? My father died in my sophomore year and that was the end of income. My mother felt that she just couldn’t afford to continue my education, so I came back and went to the Washington School for Secretaries and graduated from there. They asked me to teach in their New York school. My first job was as a school teacher for Washington School for Secretaries in New York City. How long did you stay in New York? Two and a half years. Did you live right in Manhattan, then? -3- Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Yes. West 86th Street. Three of us went up together. My mother was somewhat reluctant about her daughter’s going to the big city like that, but there were three of us. We first stayed in the Three Arts Club which was a very confined, thoroughly chaperoned establishment — signing in and signing out. Then we got a little bit restless and decided, the three of us, that we would get an apartment, one block away on West 86th. The Three Arts Club was West 85th. It was fun. Those were good times. You were referring to the, is it Three Arts Club? Three Arts — A-r-t-s You taught school in New York for several years. Two and a half. What prompted you to leave New York, then? I became engaged to be married up there to an attractive young man. I came home to plan a wedding and see what we were going to do. It didn’t work out and we broke off the engagement. You came back to Washington after your change in plans. What happened next? I went to work temporarily. When I first came back I did teach again at the Washington School for Secretaries here in Washington. I taught my sister and one of my closest friends. One good thing about the school was it did guarantee employment to the graduates, so we had sort of an employment agency, so to speak. I was teaching temporarily when a temporary job opened up. It was a job at the Democratic National Committee and it was fascinating. I -4- Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: stayed on there until I met Eugene Casey, who was a very active Democrat from Montgomery County Maryland. They all called him Farmer Casey. He had two farms in Maryland; he ultimately had farms out in Wisconsin. He was asked by Mr. Roosevelt to become one of FDR’s assistants. There were four of them, the men with the “passion for anonymity,” that’s what they were called. He asked me if I would be his secretary at the White House. About what year this would have been? That would have been 1939. You were at the DNC for a certain period of time? Yes, under a year. Had you been active in Democratic politics? No. It just happened that these opportunities came up for you? Yes. How did you meet Mr. Casey? At the Committee. He was a big Democrat and he was over at the Committee a lot. So in 1940 you went with Eugene Casey to Roosevelt’s White House to work? Yes. What kinds of jobs or tasks did you have when you were there? -5- Mrs. Wright: I was his secretary and I did all the things that secretaries do. Unappreciated by the general public but it was a lot of administrative things that you do. You get correspondence and you handle it. You write the answers, you research the answers and you do a lot on your own. Gene traveled a lot and I took care of travel arrangements and vouchers and all those other things. Gene’s job was dealing with agriculture matters and he was the liaison between the White House and the Department of Agriculture. Ms. Carney: You stayed with him at the White House until? Mrs. Wright: Until July of ’43. Ms. Carney: In July of ’43, what happened? Mrs. Wright: I was getting restless, the war was going on, and I kept feeling the world was passing me by, at least the war was passing me by. As exciting as my job was I still wanted to be overseas where the action was. Gene was very instrumental in making inquiries for me. Most of the overseas jobs with the State Department were very limited in the kinds of work you could do for people who were not career foreign service officers, women particularly, even men, too. They were limited to working in the Code Room. I didn’t care about working in the Code Room, encoding and decoding. Obviously, I didn’t know anything about it, but it didn’t sound very stimulating and so I got a job as a secretary to William Wassermann. He was going over to the Economic Warfare Division of the Embassy and needed an American secretary. In England, there was a lot of British clerical help, but they were not cleared for “top secret” material and there had to be a number of American secretaries or clerical help who were cleared for “top secret .” -6- Ms. Carney: Before we cross the ocean to talk about what happened in London, can you tell me any more about what it was like to work in the White House in those days? Mrs. Wright: There were two really exciting things. One momentous occasion was when Mr. Churchill came over to confer with the President and they had a press conference. To contrast that press conference with conferences today, such as we see on TV, is really dramatic. In other words, there were about 30 reporters gathered in a semi-circle around the desk in the oval office and the President was sitting there. He had his cigarette holder, that long tapered cigarette holder with a cigarette in it. He had a black arm band on because he was in mourning for his mother’s death, and there was Mr. Churchill sitting beside him with a great big cigar and the “V” for victory. He was always flashing that “V” for victory. But, the press conference was so small as compared with both the government and the activities today that it was kind of inspiring, uncluttered. It was interesting. The other thing that happened, of course, was Pearl Harbor. Ms. Carney: You were working in the White House, then, when Pearl Harbor happened? Mrs. Wright: It was a Sunday, as everybody remembers who was around. I had come back from church and turned on the radio and there it was. The real shock factor occurred in my living room, with my mother and Ginny. We just couldn’t grasp the fact that we were at war. The next day, of course, it was kind of a hush-hush atmosphere, at work. Again, it was sort of hard to believe. Obviously, 1 wasn’t privy to all these many “secrets” that have come out since about who knew what, that the Japanese really were, perhaps, going to strike. As far as I was concerned, and I think, as far as most – 7 – people were concerned, it was a surprise. Hindsight is so easy. Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: So the atmosphere was very sober, right? Exactly. After this time, then, in the White House, which must have been very exciting, I can understand why you wouldn’t have wanted to spend a lot of hours in the Code Room, even if that did take you overseas. So you took a job then with Mr. William Wassermann. Tell me again what his position was overseas? He was with the Economic Warfare Division of the American Embassy. Economic Warfare Division? Yes. It was a branch of the Foreign Economic Administration, as it was known in the headquarters here in Washington. But in London it was the Economic Warfare Division of the Embassy or the Board of Economic Warfare. it was also called. What was economic warfare? It had to do with accessing such things as the heavy water production on the continent for the building of atomic weapons by the Germans. It was the case also of accessing these places where there was a potential for construction of atomic weapons. There was also bomb damage assessment to see what had been accomplished with the bombing. That was so long ago, all the details of our activities are very much dimmed by more important things. I can imagine. Also the context is so different now than it was then, the details must be -8- Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: less vivid. So you were offered this job and you decided to go. Is that right? Yes, indeed. Can you describe your trip overseas? Yes. I went to New York, flew up to New York and was to fly over on the Pan Am Clipper. It was a flying boat. Could you describe that a little bit? A flying boat. It was a great, big, cumbersome airplane, but landed in the water on pontoons. It had sleeping facilities for about four people and then it had benches as well. It was unlike anything we have today. We went up to New York and stayed the night and were to take off the next afternoon. When we went out to the plane there was some engine trouble and so we went back into the city. It was all very hush-hush. We then boarded the plane the next day. Again, it was evening because we flew overnight to Shedick. I have always said Nova Scotia and when I looked it up on the map recently I find it is near Nova Scotia but it actually is not. It’s not New Brunswick? New Brunswick, that’s it. And, we got off that morning and had breakfast in Shedick. One thing about the flying boat, it would glide along in the water and then as it picked up speed, the spray from the pontoons was just like a torrential downpour and the noise was incredible, and off it took. It was exciting and fun. With large propellers and several engines, I suppose? -9- Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Right. About how many people would it transport? I would say probably about 20. I ought to look at my short-snorter. That was a fun game that was always played on those trans-Atlantic flights. You got a dollar bill and you got everybody on the plane to sign your dollar bill and if you ran into these people anytime in the future, you would always say “show me your short-snorter“ and if they didn’t have it on them they owed you a dollar. So, I have a short-snorter but I don‘t know where it is at the moment. I do remember that Burgess Meredith was on my flight. So I got a very famous autograph on my short-snorter. That’s wonderful. So, you went from New Brunswick to — ? We left there and we flew to Botwood, Newfoundland. And from Newfoundland? To Foynes. Fo ynes? Ireland. You had to go to places that had water airports, so to speak. Were these clippers very common? Yes. There weren‘t a great many of them but that was the method of flying the ocean. In 1943. July of ‘43 And then on to London? – 10 – Mrs. Wright: From Foynes we flew down to Liverpool and then in Liverpool we got a train into London. Ms. Carney: So you arrived in London in July 1943. Where did you go to live? Mrs. Wright: The first night the Embassy had made reservations for me at Victoria Hotel down at Victoria Station. It was awful. Big barn-like old room. I think it probably had been the sitting room of some grand suite at one time — very high ceiling, no closets, it was just dreadful. And, of course, London had been and was still being subjected to bombing, so it wasn‘t a very comfortable place as far as safety was concerned, either. This kind of treatment brings up a situation that I lived with for two and a half years in London, and that is the difference in being an employee of the State Department versus being an employee in any other department of government. The difference in perks and privileges was outrageous. I say it’s outrageous because I cannot see any reason why certain Americans abroad doing similar things as other Americans would be so deprived of perks. For instance, if you were a State Department employee you were able to order cases of food and cases of liquor, and you had special passports. Those of us who didn’t work as code clerks, we worked in other departments, had none of those. Upon my arrival in London, for instance, I landed at Victoria Hotel, while the State Department people invariably landed at the Cumberland Hotel, which was a sturdy, modern building — it didn‘t take me long to get there but I had to do it on my own, I wasn’t automatically transported there as the other people were. And, that was one of the real resentments when my friend Ruth West and I lived together in a flat. I wanted to carry my weight and do my part but if you can’t purchase canned goods and you can’t purchase liquor, it‘s hard to share something you haven’t got. – 11 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: She justifiably refused to let me pay half of what she got. She felt that was inappropriate. I didn’t have any access to it so I shouldn’t buy it. Was your friend, Ruth West, a State Department employee? Yes. She was in the code room and I got to know a lot of her friends in the code room. Ruthie and I were friends for 52 years. She just died last Spring. That was the friendship that you made starting on the plane on the way over, is that right? That’s right. Exactly. Tell us about your work in London after you arrived. Well, it was with the Economic Warfare Division of the Embassy and it was at 40 Berkeley Square. The Embassy proper was at Number One Grosvenor Square. We were just two blocks away. 40 Berkeley was what they called over there a “block of flats,” — we would call it an apartment house. That’s where the Economic Warfare Division had its offices and a minister in charge. He was Winfield W. Riefler. He was a wonderful man. I ended up working for him at 40 Berkeley. He was a brilliant economist. Was there a community of Americans in London then at the time? Oh, yes. Most of us really did sort of hobnob with Americans. I knew Ruthie’s friends at the Code Room and Ruthie knew my friends from 40 Berkeley. Also at 40.Berkeley was OSS, the forerunner of the CIA, and so we knew friends there. And, yes, we really did have an enclave, if you will, of Americans. I was – 12 – fortunate, so was Ruthie. We each had British friends. I had known Lady Cory through a friend in Washington and she and her family — she had two daughters and a son whom I knew. So, I got to know British people. I also had a beau who was a Wing Commander in the RAF and through him I got to know some British people. But the bulk of our friendships were Americans. Ms. Carney: Were you spending most of your time working, then, as part of the war effort, or was there time to do other activities as well? Mrs. Wright: We worked really very, very hard. The hours were six days a week. We had Sundays off, but we did full days on Saturday. We would often work in the evening, with the difference in time between the United States and England. Everything that was done in the way of communication with the British counterpart had to be cleared by Washington. So, say Mr. Riefler would have a conference with Dingle Foot, his counterpart in the British government. They would discuss things and then Mr. Riefler would have to relay by cable to Washington the gist of their discussion and his recommendations as to how to deal with it and then wait for a reply from Washington. And you had, of course, the five hour difference. It was often very difficult to reach people and you’d sit around and wait for the replies to come through. You, of course, juggled your conferences in London based on how you would communicate back to the States. It was interesting but it was also tedious. I always felt that people of great com- petence were not given, I didn’t feel, adequate leeway in using their own judgment in things. Ms. Carney: I believe in London you met or re-met a certain James Skelly Wright, is that correct? Mrs. Wright: That’s correct. – 13 – Ms. Carney: Could you tell me about that. Mrs. Wright: Yes. I had met Skelly in New York. I had been going out with this friend from Washington who was transferred to New York. Jack and Skelly were roommates in New York — they were in the Coast Guard and they were working to set up the Merchant Marines Hearing Unit. I went up to New York one weekend with Ginny, my sister, and I had a date with Jack and Ginny had a date with Skelly, a blind date. And, I remember we met and went out to the Statue of Liberty. It was kind of fun, but we came back on the ship and saw the sheep being led to slaughter. It was hardly an inspiring kind of a day‘s activity. The Statue of Liberty was inspiring, obviously, but to see the black sheep go up the ramp and lead the poor unsuspecting white sheep up behind him and a great hammer would come down and hit them on the head and they’d keel over and be hauled off. Anyway, that’s where Skelly and I met. Ms. Carney: But, your sister was on a blind date with Skelly and you were with Jack Dugan. Do you recall who had set up that blind date? Mrs. Wright: Jack. I had the date with Jack. I had known him in Washington and had seen him in New York. I had known him for a couple of years and dated him off and on. So, when I was going up for the weekend, Ginny went with me and he said, bring Ginny along, and I’ve got this nice roommate and we’d all four go out. Which is what we did. Ms. Carney: You said Jack and Skelly were working in the Coast Guard and working with the Merchant Marines Hearing Unit. What did the Hearing Unit do? Mrs. Wright: It had to do with the legal support, if you will, of the Merchant Marines. For instance, – 14 – in London, one of the cases Skelly had was a murder trial defending a Merchant Seaman in a murder case. I think it was called the Charlie Brown case. But, this Merchant Seaman had been put out of a pub, I am not sure of all of the facts, but in any case, he had a knife and he rammed a knife through the door, trying to get in and he hit somebody on the other side of the door with this knife and killed him. I think those are basically the facts, although it sounds a little implausible. Skelly defended him. They basically defended and prosecuted Merchant Seamen. Ms. Carney: Like the judge advocate general? And the Charlie Brown case, was that in New York or in London? Mrs. Wright: London. Ms. Carney: But even in New York he was in the Merchant Marines Hearing Unit. Mrs. Wright: The case was after he went over to London. He was sent to London to set up the Merchant Marines Hearing Unit in London. They didn’t have one. He went over to set it up and he actually, in that capacity, worked on Admiral Stark‘s legal staff. It was out of that office that they did this Merchant Marines Hearing. Ms. Carney: When you met him in New York and then saw him again sometime thereafter, had he completed law school? Mrs. Wright: Yes. Skelly had completed law school and had worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans. He was there several years when the war broke out and he joined the Coast Guard. He went almost immediately on the Thetus, which was a sub-chaser in the Atlantic and he was on that sub-chaser about eight months, I guess, I did not know him then. He said he never got so – 15 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: sea sick in all his life, he was never so glad to get off a ship. Maybe this is a good point, actually, to shift for a moment and ask you about Skelly Wright’s early years, where he was born and his family. Maybe you could start at the beginning and go on as best you can. He was born in New Orleans in 1911 and he was one of seven children. He was the second of seven. His father was a housing inspector for plumbing and electrical equipment. Perhaps he was supposed to verify if a unit was habitable or a building was up to standards, that kind of thing. Exactly. And his mother, she was a super lady, she was very active in politics. She was a devout Roman Catholic and went to Mass every morning of life and, as I say, was active in politics down there. His mother was active in politics? His mother was, yes. What did she do? She was just sort of ward leader, got out the vote, that kind of thing. You know, she didn’t run for any office. In those days women didn’t do that. They did recruit and get the voters out to vote and work for candidates. I take it this was Democratic politics? Yes. In the south. The other children in the family? – 16 – Mrs. Wright: There was an older brother, Eddie, and then there were — there were four boys, Eddie, Skelly, Richard and Jimmy. Skelly, Richard and Jimmy all got law degrees. Eddie didn’t go into law school. I don’t know what Eddie did after .the war. I know that during the war he was down in the engine of some Navy ship and I remember it very much debilitated his hearing. He was sweet. He just wasn’t as brilliant as the other boys were. Richard went during the war (he had gotten his law degree) with the FBI in Venezuela and after the war he stayed on in South America with the Texaco Company, Texas Oil Company, and was in charge of the whole operation in South America and was scheduled to go to the Iranian Consortium, probably one of the biggest jobs in the oil industry when he was stricken at age 40 with leukemia. He died at -age 42, leaving three small children. It was really tragic. Jimmy, the youngest of the three, was in the Navy during the war, in the Pacific, and when he came back he got his law degree. He hadn’t gotten it before the war, but he got his law degree and married. Ms. Carney: And sisters in the family? Mrs. Wright: The sisters were Rosemary, the oldest of the three girls. She married and had three children. Marty was the second. She married and moved to Birmingham, Alabama, married a dentist. Kate was the youngest. She married and had three children. Ms. Carney: Are they living today? Mrs. Wright: Yes. The girls all are but all the boys are dead. Jimmy died just last April. Terrible Ms. Carney: I am sorry. What were the full names of Judge Wright’s parents? – 17 – Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Margaret Skelly and James Edward Wright. So he was named after both his mother and his father? Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Right. I used to say that they were not very imaginative about their names because it was James Edward Wright, James Edward Wright, Jr., James Skelly Wright and Richard Edward Wright. They used as few different names as possible to name their children. Was the family brought up as practicing Catholics? Yes, they were. But, Skelly fell away, I guess. He went to Loyola. They all went to public schools. They did not go to parochial schools. They all went to public schools and then Skelly went to Loyola undergraduate and then went to law school at night. He taught school when he was getting his education, he taught high school. What did he teach? He taught English history and English. He taught high school during the day and went to law school at night? Yes. Had his parents been college-educated? No. What were his home circumstances? Was the family comfortable, being so large? It was modest. They were comfortable, a modest house between the garden district and uptown in the city. – 18 – Ms. Carney: Do you know of any events in his early years that you thought might have been particularly formative? Mrs. Wright: There was one in particular but that was later years. We’ll get to that later unless you want __ let’s get back to his career. After he got out of law school he did land a job as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. Ms. Carney: So he finished Loyola Law School at night and then he stopped teaching. He took the bar exam and stopped his teaching and went and looked for a job as an attorney. And then he landed his first job. Mrs. Wright: Right. Ms. Carney: And that was? Mrs. Wright: Assistant U.S. Attorney Ms. Carney: Do you know anything about how he got that job? Mrs. Wright: Yes, he got it through his Uncle Joe Skelly. This was his mother‘s brother, and he was a very prominent Democrat and had lots of contacts with the Democratic politics down there. He was a commissioner of the city and that also gave him a lot of clout, so to speak. He was a prominent New Orleansian and it was through him that Skelly got the job. Ms. Carney: This was soon after he passed the bar exam that he had a job as the Assistant U.S. Attorney. And what kind of work was he doing? Mrs. Wright: He was a whiz prosecutor and many of the cases were drug cases and some of the other things were cases about the Huey Long Machine. Governor Lesch followed Huey as governor. When Huey had come up to be a senator, Governor Lesch was the governor and he was indicted and – 19 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: convicted of — I don’t know, whatever politicians get convicted of, probably money coming in that he shouldn’t have had or that kind of thing. Skelly was very instrumental in prosecuting the Long Machine people of which the Governor was one. So, there was a series of corruption cases that he was prosecuting. I assume the whole office was active on this. Yes. Was it a large office, do you know? Yes. Herbert Christenberry, Bob Weinstein, Rene Viosca, Skelly and Leon Hebert. So it was five. Christenberry? Herbert Christenberry. Who later became a federal judge? Right. And Rene Viosca, he became a state court judge. Leon Hebert, I don’t know what Leon ended up doing. We used to see him in England. Bob Weinstein practiced law after that. So the five of them were Assistant U.S. Attorneys? Well, four of them: Viosca was the U.S. Attorney; the others were assistants. They were a vigorous group, I take it. Yes. And you say he also prosecuted drug-related cases. – 20 – Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Right. A lot of marijuana. Really. This would have been — It was probably 1939, roughly, ’40. So he began his professional life as a prosecutor? Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Right. How long did he stay, then, as Assistant U.S. Attorney, roughly? Until war broke out. After Pearl Harbor he immediately signed up. Had he had any prior experience with the Coast Guard, then? Was it just the luck-of-the-draw, or how did he end up at the Coast Guard? I am not too positive. I know he tried the Navy and his draft number was very, very low. He knew that he would be a foot soldier unless he could get some kind of a commission. As I remember his telling it, the Navy was going to take too long, but the Coast Guard offered him a commission right off. And he went on to be an officer in the Coast Guard? Yes. Where was he first posted? I guess in New Orleans, and then he was ordered to the “Thetis, ‘I a sub-chaser. Did he serve as an attorney right there on the submarine? No – 21 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: What was he doing on the submarine, then? He was dropping bombs on the submarines in a convoy. I think they got a sub, they used to say, you know they’d spot them, or radar picked them yp on their radar and then they‘d drop the bombs. What did they call them, not bombs. Torpedoes? Yes, that’s right. They‘d wait for slicks to appear which would indicate that they did get their sub, and he thinks that once they did get their sub. Terrible in retrospect, isn’t it? Where was the Thetis operating? Up the Atlantic Coast, from Florida to New York.. So he spent nine months, or so, on the Thetis? Yes. And then he was ordered to New York. Nine months on the Thetis and then he was ordered to New York and there he was to begin a different kind of service? That was with the Merchant Marines Hearing Unit that they had set up in New York. He and Jack were in charge of that. Was he doing both prosecution and defense work, then, as you understand it? I guess soI I don’t know. I think a lot of what they did was just set up the unit and when he got to London he set up the unit there too. When he was in England he would visit all the ports and I guess check to be sure that things were all in order. He’d go periodically all the way to Scotland and the southern coast of England, all the ports. – 22 – Ms. Carney: I wonder how those visits could have been related to setting up an office? Mrs. Wright: They probably weren’t — I don’t think they were related to setting up so much as being sure everything was in order, and were they needed, and what were the circumstances down in the ports. This is strictly off the top of my head. Beginning way back then and really throughout our lives together, Skelly was kind of monosyllabic about the work he did. Ms. Carney: Was he less monosyllabic about other things? Mrs. Wright: Skelly had a wonderful sense of humor. He was smart as he could be and very interested in news. He was not monosyllabic about those kinds of things. Ms. Carney: He kept largely to himself? Mrs. Wright: Yes. Ms. Carney: Nine months on the Thetis after his start in New Orleans and then posted to New York where he stayed for some period of time? Mrs. Wright: Yes. He went over to England in June of ‘43, about a month before I did. I had only seen him that once and Jack wrote to him and said, “You remember meeting Helen Patton“ in New York. Ms. Carney: When he was — Mrs. Wright: Helen Patton is coming over, please look out for her for me. Ms. Carney: And he did. Mrs. Wright: And he did. Ms. Carney: And how did you meet him again in London? – 23 – Mrs. Wright: He called. He knew I was at the Embassy and he tracked me down, so to speak, and we had dinner. Ms. Carney: Was this soon after your arrival? Mrs. Wright: Yes, quite soon. I was there in July, I probably saw him the first part of August, like in a week. Ms. Carney: Could you describe what happened up to the time you were married there? Mrs. Wright: Lots of things. Well, he lived with A1 Richmond who was a captain in the Coast Guard and ultimately became commandant of the Coast Guard. I lived with Ruthie in the Cumberland Hotel for nine months. We finally got a flat in Blackburns Mews off Grosvenor Square. In the meantime, Skelly and I would go out to dinner and dancing. We would go to one of our favorite haunts called the Cabaret Club. It was an after-hours bottle club where you bring your own bottle and they have set-ups. The entertainment was the same, night after night, and month after month, but it was fun. Ms. Carney: What was the entertainment? Mrs. Wright: There was some music, usually, on a kind of intercom. Music, loud, and then they would have kind of a floor show. I remember one act in the floor show was this little urchin, so to speak, young girl done up in a baggy shirt and baggy pants and a little cap with a visor and she was a newspaper delivery person, boy/girl, whatever. She would dance around the people seated on the dance floor at the tables, and she would take her newspaper and bop them. At this particular time, Skelly was notorious for going to sleep and he had dozed off, sitting at the table, and she came and bopped him on the – 24 – Ms. Carney: head, startled him. He didn’t sleep again after that. It was fun. Of course, in London eating and drinking was very sparse, not many things to buy, and of course, there was the black-out and there were the bombs. We were there for the fire bombs, this would have been late ’43, it was Hitler’s last attempt at conventional bombing. He practically decimated the city in the ‘40 blitz and then he tried again in late ’43 with these fire raids. Then, I guess, probably in the early part of ‘44, over came the Doodle Bugs, or the V-l’s, they were pilot-less planes. As they would come over, when the engine went out, you knew the plane either was going to coast far ahead and come down. Or, sometime they would even do a perpendicular descent, the plane engine would go out and you had to be very careful that the plane didn’t come straight down. We had many exciting times watching up and wondering where those Doodle Bugs really were going to go, and then watch them explode. The danger with them was primarily flying glass. They would hit in a surface sort of way and the percussion would push all the glass into the buildings. One of Skelly’s friends was at home when a bomb went off in the square where he lived and he rose up in bed when he heard it coming and glass absolutely peppered him, his chest, arms. He was in the hospital for days trying to get that glass picked out of him. One weekend I came back to London, I had been away, and a bomb had hit the foot of Berkeley Square. My office was just covered with glass. Fortunately, it had hit on a Sunday, nobody was there. So, they were not to be taken lightly. The fire bombs were late in ’43, six months 01 so after your arrival? – 25 – Mrs. Wright: Right. They were incendiaries, they called them. They were regular bombs that would hit and then start fires. Some bombs just caused craters and destruction of buildings. These did that too, but they also caused fires. I can remember going to Leicester Square and the whole place was practically ablaze. They didn’t last too long. Ms. Carney: Did you have any particularly close calls when you were with Skelly? You were always watchful, I assume. Mrs. Wright: Yes. Our close call really was the first V-2 to hit London. Ms. Carney: A V-2 — ? Mrs. Wright: The V-2 was a rocket. They were all rockets, but it was a stratospheric rocket. The Doodle Bugs, the V-1’s were launched from the continent, and they came over low — all the Barrage Balloons that had been in London were put down on the coast when the Buzz Bombs started coming over. Many of those Buzz Bombs would get ensnared with the Barrage Balloons. The V-2’s went up through stratosphere and then came straight down. They caused great excavations. I remember, we were walking back from Skelly’s flat in Edgeware Road to my flat, by then I was living in Portland Place. Ruthie and I were told to get out of the Mews flat because of the skylights and the danger. So we were living then in a basement flat of a friend from the Embassy. We were walking along Wigmore Street and first we saw a flash. It looked as if the whole of London was being lighted up and we wondered what this could possibly be. In the black-out this was kind of dramatic. We then heard a hissing noise and then an explosion as the bomb hit. All the fire sparks came up out of the excavation. – 26 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: When we saw that flash we had no idea, we thought this was the end of the world, this was not explainable and we fell flat on the pavement, wondering what would come next. This bomb actually was about three blocks away from us. It was down near Selfridge’s on Oxford Street. It had hit a pub, but fortunately, after hours. It took a taxi from the street and just threw it into the show room window of Selfridge’s Department Store, that’s the force of the suction, or whatever it was. We got up and realized we were both all right and kept on walking. The next day we then, of course, learned what it was. That sounds terrifying. It was a bit. Knowledge is — well, ignorance is not bliss, let’s put it that way. We had no idea what was going on. What was Skelly’s attitude towards all of this? Was he just busy going about his business? that haPP over When He was basically a very calm person. He was not excitable. We talked a lot about the future when we were sort of going together. We kept thinking, of course, we would wait and go home and then get married. Were we going to marry or weren’t we and then when we finally decided, yes, we would, then we had to try and figure out when we would. We finally decided with all this going on, let’s grab our ness while we can. So, we were married there. did you decide to get married? October of ’44. I remember we talked about it. We had to get permission from Admiral Stark and we had to wait three months from the time we applied to Admiral Stark. Fortunately, I had known Admiral Stark through the years and he – 27 – was dear when we were married. Skelly flew back to the States then. Ms. Carney: This would have been when? Mrs. Wright: This would have been October of ’44 Ms. Carney: This was after you decided to get married? Mrs. Wright: Yes. When we decided to get married, he flew home to tell his family and my family. Ms. Carney: So, he came to meet your family? Mrs. Wright: Yes, my mother, my father had died, and my sister. Then he flew to New Orleans and told his family and bought my ring. That was kind of dumb because you can buy diamonds a lot cheaper in England than you could in the States. Never mind. Buy American, I guess. Ms. Carney: You remained in England while he came home and made that trip. Do you recall hearing what your mother and sister’s first impression of him was? Mrs. Wright: Well — Ms. Carney: Your sister, of course, had met him. Mrs. Wright: Yes, she had met him. Well, Skelly, with his reticence, I guess that’s what I have to credit it to, decided, I suppose, that he wanted to tell his family first. But, he saw my mother first and I had written her that he was going to come and we were going to get married. He never said word one to her about getting married. And she thought, what kind of a man is this. They were at dinner at the Cosmos Club and she kept waiting for him to say something and he never said anything. And she was, to put it mildly, a little hurt or upset or something. Then he came back to Washington and – 28 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs . Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: MS. Carney: Mrs. Wright: produced the ring. This was his way of being able to tell her, “Now look, this is what I got for your daughter. ” He felt more comfortable having everything set. Yes. But my mother already knew and couldn’t understand it, the silence. Then he returned to England? Yes. In November And you were married when? February 1, 1945, that was three months. The end of the waiting period. So that would have been 50 years ago, this year? Yes Can you describe your wedding a little? It was a small wedding. I had General Rumbough give me away and stand in for my family. He was head of the Signal Corps in the European Theater of Operations. I had known him when he was a captain in the Army. He used to take a group of us from Gunston. His wife taught at Gunston Hall, and he used to take us out on Sundays on picnics in Rock Creek Park. Could you spell his name, please? R-u-m-b-o-u-g-h. William S. We called him Cappy or Rummy. We kept track of him, my family, through the years, off and on, and of his wife and son, Jimmy. He was sent to London and when he was in London we would see each other and then when he was transferred to Paris – 29 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: I asked him if he would fly over and give me away, which he did. Your friend Ruth was there, I am sure? Yes. She was maid of honor. Where did the wedding take place? St. James’ Spanish Place. Lady Corey and her daughter sat in as my mother, my family, and we had a lovely party at the flat in Portland Place where Ruthie and I had ended up living. You recall that you had a nice cake? Yes. One of the ladies at the Embassy had to beg, borrow, butter and sugar and she baked this 3-tiered wedding cake that was absolutely beautiful with H’s and S’s and VIS for victory and hearts and flowers. It was three layers divided by poles and on the top there was a little white plaster of paris vase with silver leaves coming out. They didn’t have brides and grooms and things over there. It was a beautiful thing to behold, I must say. What did one do for a honeymoon during the war? We went the first night to Savoy Hotel in London and then to the Isle of Wight. We took a train down to — where all the big ships leave from? A large port on the southern coast of England. We got on a boat and went across part of the channel to the Isle of Wight. That was an island which had been the yachtsman’s paradise, all the yacht boats went in there. It was quaint. There was a castle in ruins, but we were able to walk around all the area around the castle. We met up with an Army couple and he had a jeep, so they took us all over the island in their jeep. It was fun. – 30 – Ms. Carney: On the train ride from London down to the port, was there anything special? Mrs. Wright: Yes. We were sitting in the car and it was a coach. They have the compartments on the trains there and you face each other. There was a couple, an older couple, across the aisle in this compartment and they had a newspaper. All of a sudden a big broad grin as they turned the paper around to us and pointed to our picture, our wedding picture. We were coming out of the church and the photographer took the picture and it landed in whatever the London paper was, London Times, I don’t think, another less prestigious paper. We nodded, yes, that was a picture of us. Ms. Carney: Your honeymoon lasted for? Mrs. Wright: A week. Ms. Carney: And you returned to London? Mrs. Wright: Yes. Ms. Carney: And you set up house? Mrs. Wright: That was kind of funny too, because Admiral Richmond, well he was then Captain Richmond, was scheduled to go back to the States in a matter of a month or so. He decided that Skelly would stay on in their flat in Edgeware Road and Admiral Richmond would get a smaller flat. The flat they had together was a nicer one with two bedrooms. Admiral Richmond was supposed to have moved into his smaller flat. He knew when we were scheduled to come back and we came back. Being a sentimentalist, I said, “Oh, Skelly, you’ve got to carry me across the threshold.” He looked a little startled but he decided he could accommodate that. So he put the key in the door and turned the lock and then reached down to pick me up and we looked – 31 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: in and there sat Captain Richmond in the living room. “I wasn’t sure that it was really today that you were coming back,” or whatever he said, I don’t know. It wasn’t adequate, whatever it was. So, he finally sort of scrambled some of his clothes out of there and went down to his efficiency. Needless to say, I did not get carried across the threshold. I guess not. Not that threshold anyway. No. How long did you stay in London after your marriage? That was February ’45. I came back to the States at the end of September of ’45. Skelly came back in November of ’45. And you came back to where? I came to Washington and he stopped off here on his way, but then he went on down to New Orleans because he was going to get mustered out of the service and I had, of course, quit my job. We were going to see where we were going to live. Where we ended up had to do with where he decided he would use his legal education. So, you had discussions in London, I suppose, before you came back about where you might live and it was very unclear. Is that right? He didn’t know what he wanted to do. He didn’t think he wanted to be an Assistant U.S. Attorney again. But he debated practicing law in New Orleans or, possibly, even practicing law in Washington. Why did he consider practicing law in Washington? – 32 – Mrs. Wright: Partly because, I think, to the best of his knowledge, maybe he didn‘t really think about it in London so much as after he got back, but there didn’t appear to be anybody in Washington who could represent Louisiana interests up here and I think he felt that was possibly a very fertile field. It proved to be a very fertile field for a very short time. Ms. Carney: He was interested in representing Louisianabased clients in part because his mother had been active in politics in Louisiana? Mrs. Wright: He needed clients. Ms. Carney: So he thought that he would be able to get clients from Louisiana who wanted some representation here in Washington and that would mean dealing with the federal government, I suppose, in different ways. Mrs. Wright: Washington has proved to be a lucrative place for a law practice. Ms. Carney: When he came back, the war ended, you came back in September and looked for a place to live here in Washington? Mrs. Wright: No. When I first came back, we didn’t know where we were going to go. So I stayed with my mother. Ms. Carney: So you came and stayed with your mother and Skelly went back to New Orleans. He was mustered out and you were talking by phone? Mrs. Wright: Yes. And he would fly up weekends. We had lots of “spaces in togetherness,” I call it. Ms. Carney: And how did he reach his ultimate decision? You said that he ultimately decided that people needed representation? – 33 – Mrs. Wright: He made inquiries of law firms there. The Assistant U.S. Attorney slot really didn’t appear to have any place to go and he had done it. He felt that, now married, he felt he had responsibilities coming up, so to speak, and he had to make a good living. He had a career that had a future and he didn‘t see that much of a future with the U.S. Attorney’s office. He inquired of law firms down there and he had a couple of offers, I think, but they weren’t what he felt he wanted and in the process of this inquiry he also made investigations, so to speak, of possible clients in Washington. He came up with two that were on retainer as soon as he hung out his shingle. One was Higgins Boat Builders and another was an off-shore drilling outfit. Ms. Carney: These were businesses that were based in New Or leans? Mrs. Wright: Right. Ms. Carney: … and that needed help in Washington? Mrs. Wright: Right. Ms. Carney: When did he ultimately come to Washington to hang out his shingle? Mrs. Wright: Let‘s see. He came back in November, then he had Christmas there and I went down for New Year‘s with him, that would have been January. It probably was around March that he came up permanently. I really don’t remember. Ms. Carney: But sometime in 1946? Mrs. Wright: Yes. Early ‘46. Ms. Carney: Do you recall what his feelings were? New Orleans had been really his home and anchor. He had been, obviously, in New York and London, – 34 – as well. What did coming to Washington mean to him? Mrs. Wright: He found it very stimulating. Skelly had a very broad view of things, I guess. He liked the Washington scene. He liked the excitement, the stimulus. He liked the people. I think he was very happy here. A lot of people used to say, “Well, he did that for you.” Skelly didn‘t do that for me. Skelly did what he thought was right as he saw it and nobody could twist his arm, least of all, me. Ms. Carney: So, when he had decided that it was — Mrs. Wright: When I knew he was coming up to practice law, I started looking for a place to live, for about a month or so. I found a charming little house, a carriage house on N Street, off of Connecticut Avenue, and that was our first home. Ms. Carney: I was thinking about that — on N Street off of Connecticut. This is between Connecticut and 17th? Mrs. Wright: Yes. 1765 N. Ms. Carney: There’s the Iron Gate Restaurant near there. Mrs. Wright: It‘s across the street and down further from Connecticut. There’s the National Association for Broadcasters on the corner. Across the street from us was the old National Presbyterian Church; that‘s all pulled down and an office building is there. It‘s about the second house down on the left and it was sort of an old brownstone, they called it, and there were steps that took you up in a little walkway through a gate. There was a patio and then this carriage house was in the back. Ms. Carney: That sounds lovely. – 35 – Mrs. Wright: It was charming, it really was great. Ms. Carney: And where was his office? Mrs. Wright: Old Stoneleigh Court which was on Connecticut Avenue north of K Street, between K and, would that have been DeSales? I am not sure, but anyway, near the Mayflower. Ms. Carney: Near the Mayflower. I don’t recognize the name. Mrs. Wright: I think it’s probably gone. Ms. Carney: He was in practice by himself, then? Mrs. Wright: He shared office space with two other lawyers. They were not a firm, but it was known as Ingoldsby, Coles & Wright. Ms. Carney: Neither Mr. Ingoldsby nor Mr. Coles was from New Orleans? Mrs. Wright: No. Ms. Carney: He began his practice, and where did that take him? Was he in court; was he on the Hill? Mrs. Wright: Mostly with the agencies. He did have two fascinating cases. One came as a result of his Louisiana connection and that was the Willie Francis murder case. Ms. Carney: Would you tell me about that? Mrs. Wright: Yes. Willie was a 15-year-old Black, I guess they called them Negro then, boy from St. Martinsville, Louisiana, who had admitted to shooting a druggist. He had a one-day trial. There were no corroborating witnesses, no real testimony, no defense. Well, he obviously had a lawyer, but not very adequate. He was sentenced to die in a one-day trial. – 36 – Ms. Carney: His lawyer was Bertrand DeBlanc. Willie was sentenced to die. He was put in the electric chair and the current didn’t go off, it just shook him up, it did not kill him. They tried again and the electric chair wouldn’t work. So, he again was sort of shaken up. He had gone through all the business of having his legs shaved and his head shaved, last meal, the hood over his head and was strapped in the chair. He had been through the worst part of it, in any case. He had really had it, when they took him out of the chair, took him back to his cell and were arranging to do it again. That was at the moment when Bertrand DeBlanc decided that this wasn’t right. He had tried to appeal to the state courts and was turned down at each step of the way and somebody down there told him that Skelly was in Washington and he should contact him to see about taking it to the Supreme Court, which is what happened. Skelly did argue the case before the Supreme Court. It’s quite something to have a Supreme Court case that early on. Had he been around the Supreme Court, had he seen a Supreme Court argument before, do you recall? Mrs. Wright: Not to my knowledge. I am trying to get things in perspective because later on, of course, all those Justices and so on were such good friends and we went so often — I don’t think so. Hugo Black was on the Court, Frankfurter, Murphy. I don’t think Skelly had — I know he had never argued a case. He obviously was there once when he was admitted to practice, that’s foregone. He was somewhat intimidated, I think. Ms. Carney: He had done trial work as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, but probably not appellate work. Mrs. Wright: Right. – 37 – Ms. Carney: So, this may have even been his first appellate case? Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Probably. Do you recall — did you go to the argument? Oh, yes. Do you recall anything about it? Well, I was very proud of him. I thought he did just great. I remember going in and sitting down and I wanted to take notes but that was a no-no, we weren’t allowed to have a tablet or take any notes. Skelly, as I said, I think he did very well. He was peppered with questions and I kept thinking, “Why don’t you let him talk?” But, it depends on the case, sometimes they ask more questions almost than time permits. It was traumatic. But, when he was through I think he felt pretty good about it as the result of the questions that had been asked of him. But, he lost. Do you recall the vote? 5-4. Very close. Very close. It was kind of interesting. But he was crushed. As I have said, not just because he lost, but he really didn’t think justice had been done. He felt very strongly about both double jeopardy and cruel and unusual punishment. Those two issues were to his mind completely clear and irrefutable and he was very crushed that Hugo Black and Felix Frankfurter, whom he felt would have been on Willie’s side, if you will, had voted against him. Frankfurter had some long rambling sen- tence about society’s opinion and that didn’t – 38 – Ms. Carney: seem to make sense either. I think he made judgments on the basis of society. The other thing that was kind of interesting about the case was the dissent written by Burton which was so worded that in looking at it very closely it seemed as if it had been the majority opinion and there had been a change of vote at the last minute and it became the minority or dissenting opinion. On the strength of that they started scurrying around to see if they could get a rehearing, hoping that — seems to me there was another factor involved there, too — but, they felt might have enabled them to get a rehearing. In any case, it was denied. You never had any further information or rumor about who might have switched the vote? By looking at the dissent it seemed like it might have first been written to be a majority opinion. That must have been a big disappointment for him. Mrs. Wright: It was. Ms. Carney: I can imagine him in his morning suit, dressed up for argument. Do you recall? Mrs. Wright: I don’t think the attorneys back then wore morning suits; I think he just had to wear a dark suit. In the Solicitor General’s office, they always wear those great long flowing morning coats. I think back then Skelly just wore a dark suit. Ms. Carney: Do you recall what year that argument would have taken place? Mrs. Wright: It was probably — it was 1946, I guess. Ms. Carney: Did that argument and case establish Skelly in any way in New Orleans, Louisiana? It was a – 39 – Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: very public and large matter, I would imagine Do you recall any more about how that matter was referred to him? No. I don’t. It was just — Mr. DeBlanc, this really country lawyer there. I don‘t think Skelly ever met Mr. DeBlanc. — maybe he called the U.S. Attorney’s office. I just don’t know. Do you recall who argued for the State? No. It might have been the State Attorney General, I suppose? I don’t know. I could look it up. What effect did that loss have on Skelly? Well, he was a great one for taking things in stride. He was very disappointed but he wasn’t bitter and he didn’t sulk. He got another case argued before the Supreme Court and that one he won 5-4. Tell me about that one. Well, that was not nearly so shattering. The issue was a search and seizure. It was out of Washington State. Maybe he got that as a result of his notoriety over Willie. I don’t really know how he got it. In any case, it just had to do with a search and seizure. It established the principle that under all circumstances, or whatever, you had to have a search warrant. He got a better vote? Yes. He had a better vote. – 40 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: And, did that argument occur not long after? Yes. It was — well, he was only here 18 months. So, it had to have been late ’46 or early ‘41. And, what was the name of that case? Johnson. Is that Reswein, or something like that? I think I may have noted one in this document. Let me just take a look. Johnson v. United States. Seattle case. Search and seizure. Yes That would have been with the same members of the Supreme Court. So in a very short time, here in Washington, Skelly had two Supreme Court arguments. That’s right. Did he enjoy that process? Yes. But it was quite in contrast to his administrative work? All of a sudden he was getting to be the defendants’ lawyer instead of the prosecutor Did that cause him any concern, having been the prosecutor? No. I don’t think so. I think he just felt that everybody is entitled to a lawyer and whatever case you get you do the best you can with it. Of course, he felt strongly about Willie. I am sure he felt strongly about the search and seizure thing, too. He was strong – 41 – about invasions of privacy, and that sort of thing. Ms. Carney: You used the word notoriety over the Willie Francis case. Did he get some adverse publicity in Louisiana for having taken that case? Mrs. Wright: No. I used the wrong word. No. This was long before — I mean the fact that Willie was Black and Skelly was arguing for him, in no way impinged on his reputation — Ms. Carney: Some people might, I suppose, feel that because this person had confessed, he ought to be punished and even if the electric chair hadn’t worked a couple of times — Mrs. Wright: Well, of course, there was that issue. But it probably had nothing to do with the decision, in that he had had a pretty shabby trial and poor representation, no question about that. And, he was 15 years old. Ms. Carney: He was only 15 years old? Mrs. Wright: He was 15 when he committed the crime. So, there were all kinds of issues. But, you know, Louisiana justice wasn’t the thing which those people could have been most proud of. The law for poor people was not just — Skelly used to tell stories about how they would take Blacks and swing them from a pole out over the water and they would try and get them to confess and they would say, ”Did you do it, or did you kill ‘em?” He’d say, “No, I didn’ t .” So, they‘d dunk them in the water and they‘d pull them back up again. ”Did you do it now?” I mean it was just brutal. Ms. Carney: And these were things he had known of from growing up there? – 42 – Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Yes. Well, it was like the lynchings. There were a lot of things in the country that people cannot be proud of. He saw many of them. You have the impression that he had seen a lot as he was growing up, that he had not been a sheltered child? No. Skelly had a real bump of curiosity. He read the news avidly. He paid attention. He learned. He didn’t slide through life haphazardly at all. He really cared about things. Had he always been a great reader and interested in the world? No. I think he never was a great reader — this is what he used to say to me, that he always wished that he had read more. He read classics. He did not read novels. He did not read modern things, so to speak. He did read the classics and he did read news, magazines, papers, and all those things. He read the law avidly. But, he used to say that he wished he had read more of — more modern things, I guess. When he was a boy he would read the newspaper? I believe so. That’s before my time. You do not have a picture of a young boy with his nose in the books. No, he wasn’t a bookworm. But he had his eyes open? Yes. That’s well said. I see it’s a little after 3:OO. I think we probably ought to call it a day and resume sometime soon. Thank you for today. – 43 – * * * * Ms. Carney: This is the second part of an oral history I am doing on behalf of the Oral History Project of the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. My name is Susan Carney and I am interviewing Helen Patton Wright. It is Saturday, November 11, 1995. The interview is taking place at the home of Mrs. Wright at around 2:OO in the afternoon. We are going to continue where we left off the last time. You had come back from being overseas during the war and had decided to settle in Washington. Judge Wright was beginning a law practice and you were beginning to work on the Hill, living on N Street, as I recall. Is that right? Mrs. Wright: 1700 block of N Ms. Carney: What year? Mrs. Wright: We came back in ‘45. We moved onto N Street probably in summer of ‘46. Skelly did not decide — we did not decide in England that we would be living here, he went back to New Orleans, his hometown and made inquiries and did a lot of research, so to speak, to see where he might best proceed with his career. After much consideration, he did determine that he would try to practice law here in Washington. That would have been probably March of ‘46 that he determined really to come here. In the meantime, shortly after I got back from London, I was asked by a gentleman with whom I had worked at the Democratic National Committee before the war if I would go to work for a newly formed committee, the Senate Atomic Energy Committee, on the Hill. Dick Durham was to be the executive director and asked me if I would be an assistant. – 44 – Ms. Carney: How would you spell his name? Mrs. Wright: D-u-r-h-a-m. Durham. So I went to work on the Hill. Actually, it was probably about November of ‘45. This was even before Skelly had returned. Ms. Carney: So, he was still in New Orleans when you began working on the Hill? Mrs. Wright: Yes. Ms. Carney: And, it was for the Senate Atomic Energy … Mrs. Wright: Committee. Ms. Carney: And, what issues were before the committee at that time? Mrs. Wright: The main issue, of course, was what to do with this new force, so to speak. How would it be controlled. In other words, would it go under military control or civilian control. There were bills submitted for both positions. The primary bill was the McMahon Bill, S-1717. Mrs. Wright: Then there were amendments, particularly again, the other side of the coin was the Vandenberg Amendment to this particular bill which would have put the ultimate control of atomic energy under the military. Ms. Carney: So, that was a very hot topic at the time and there were vigorous opponents, I would imagine. Mrs. Wright: Yes. It was an interesting place to work. I learned a lot about democracy and the influence of people, the populace. The correspondence coming into the committee was considerable on both sides of the issue. It was fascinating to see how organizations are banded together by their members, and send postcards and form letters. It was required that we count all the – 45 – information for the senators on the committee, the pros and the cons. The thoughtful letters were transmitted to Senator McMahon, primarily, and to the other senators when it was thought to be necessary or helpful. But the count did have a lot to do with, I think, their consideration. That again is why, I suppose, there’s so much “lobbying.“ The issues are often decided on the basis of what the public thinks. Sometimes I worry that the public is comparatively uninformed and that statistics should not be the governing reason for doing something. Ms. Carney: And, did you find the public more informed on the issues in that day than they are on these varying issues today? Mrs. Wright: Yes. I think so. I was appalled at some of the ignorance that came through, but I was also equally appalled at some of the smarts that came through. It certainly balanced out. Skelly used to say this democracy we have is the best form of government there is and there was really some evidence of it. Ms. Carney: Were there other particular issues that came up during your time on the Hill in 1946? Mrs. Wright: Well, no, not that I was involved in. I mean government was going on and there were fascinating things I remember seeing. Clare Booth Luce on the floor of the House of Representatives with her famous rose on her suit, her signature, so to speak, and you hear about all these things and when you see them, it’s kind of fun. As to the governmental issues or national issues, my focus was obviously strictly on atomic energy. It was, of course, this bill, ultimately, made the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission, which was civilian control of atomic energy. One of the fascinating things about working with this – 46 – issue at this time had to do with the testimony of the scientific community, all of the big names in the Los Alamos Project. All of these people did testify. The realization of the tremendous potential destructiveness of this energy was overwhelming. The concern that some people had that the military might prove to be a little trigger-happy and you couldn’t gamble, you couldn’t afford to take a chance with anything as tremendous as this bomb was. Ms. Carney: Was the issue resolved while you were still working with the committee? Mrs. Wright: Yes. I left in the fall of ‘46. It took about nine months of the hearings and S-1717 did pass without the Vandenberg Amendment. This set up the Commission, the Atomic Energy Commission, and that was civilian control. Then, the committee itself became a joint committee of the House and Senate. It started out being a Senate Committee. Ms. Carney: And was Skelly happy to have you working on the Hill and involved in all these issues of the day? Mrs. Wright: Yes, he was. Of course, he came up and he was busy with starting his own practice, which was of only 18 months duration, as it ended. But, some fascinating cases, two before the Supreme Court. Ms. Carney: I think that we discussed those last time. Mrs. Wright: Yes, we did. The Francis and the search and seizure case. So he was busy. I was busy as well. Ms. Carney: And did he enjoy private practice? Mrs. Wright: Yes, he did and there were interesting issues with which he dealt. But, Skelly was always a – 47 – Ms. Carney: little pessimistic or insecure, is maybe a better word, and I think while he enjoyed private practice he always wondered where his next client was coming from. I think that‘s a condition other lawyers have known. So, that made him somewhat anxious, I suppose? You described him as being — in private practice and sharing space with two other lawyers, but not really a firm. Who were the other two, again, please? Mrs. Wright: Roy Ingoldsby. I-n-g-o-1-d-s-b-y. He was John L. and they called him Roy. The other one was Marvin Coles. MS. Carney: And how do you spell Coles? Mrs. Wright: C-o-1-e-s. Ms. Carney: How had he met each of those gentlemen? Mrs. Wright: Actually, he met Roy through a mutual friend. I can’t remember his name at the moment. But Skelly had known him before the war, or maybe during the war, and when Skelly was coming up to Washington, he asked about prospects of space, affiliations, or whatever. He said he had this friend Roy Ingoldsby who was already practicing law and he did have space and he was willing to share it with Skelly. So, it was a friend of a friend kind of a situation. Ms. Carney: And Marvin Coles? Mrs. Wright: I can’t remember how Marvin came along. Probably the same sort of situation. They were not long time friends. They had, really, nothing in common in the legal profession in any way. It was circumstances that brought them together, probably more space than anything else. – 40 – Ms. Carney: NOW, this was the first time that Skelly had been in private practice since he‘d been with the government before in the U.S. Attorney‘s Office and in the mi.litary? Mrs. Wright: Right. He did some — there was a lawyer in New Orleans for whom he did some work but it was so long ago and so minimal, that I guess I’d have to say this was the first time. But, I know when he went back home and was looking around this particular lawyer did ask him to come into his firm because they had had a prior connection. Ms. Carney: Can you describe, then, what prompted him, then, to leave his private practice in Washing- ton and head back to New Orleans? Mrs. Wright: He left his private practice and went back because the position of U.S. Attorney opened UP. Ms. Carney: Yes. But, am I right, that that brought to a close his time of being in private practice here in Washington? Mrs. Wright: Yes, but at the time it wasn’t anticipated as such. The U.S. Attorney‘s job opened up and it was in the summer of ‘41, wait a minute, ‘48, these dates were so long ago, forgive me. It was the summer of ‘48. Skelly felt that it would be a feather in his cap to have in his resume and have the experience of being the U.S. Attorney. It did not appear that that job would be very long lasting because, of course, everybody predicted that Mr. Truman would lose the election. He went down fully expecting to be relieved of that job after November. Ms. Carney: After four or five months, approximately? Mrs. Wright: Right. Then he would come back to Washington and resume his practice. – 49 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: He had not been looking for an opportunity to leave his practice since his practice was going along fine, and there was this particular opening that came up in New Orleans to be U.S. Attorney? Right. I see. NOW, I thought I had read that he went back and became senior deputy to Herbert Christenberry. Is that incorrect? That was earlier. That was earlier? Yes. There were five of them before the war — Herbert had become U.S. Attorney during the war. When Skelly came back from the war he was senior deputy to Herbert, as he was looking around trying to determine what he would do. Oh, I see. That was a temporary holding pattern, going back to what he was doing before, basically, in a somewhat more senior posit ion? Right. And, then when Herbert became a federal judge was when this vacancy occurred as U.S. Attorney and Skelly went back. Who made that appointment of him as U.S. Attorney ? Mr. Truman, President Truman. So you continued working on the Hill and he went back to what you thought was going to be a brief time away? Well, I stopped working on the Hill about January of 1947. The work was over maybe in December of whatever, 1946. But, ah, I was – 50 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: pregnant with our son Jim, and, so I stayed on here and Skelly was here until Jim was born — see I’m getting these dates, they’re a little confusing. Jim was born in 1947, so I quit working in the fall of 1946. I worked from 1945 to 1946 and Skelly went down to New Orleans right after he got back from the war, which was 1945. He came up here in probably the summer of 1946. I was still working and we got our little house on N Street, and I quit working that December 1946. Skelly was working here then. Our son was born in August of 1947. Skelly was still here and it was the summer of 1948, about May of 1948 that he went back as U.S. Attorney. So the election then would have been the following Fall? That’s right. Yes, that’s accurate. So you were here, and then your son Jim was a year old or so when Skelly went back to New Orleans? Yes. He was about 8 or 9 months. I see. He went back to New Orleans and did you see him often during that time? Well, he would come up on weekends and Jim and I were here because Skelly didn’t need or expect to stay. It was a case of filling out his time, then he would come back and join Jim and me. Did any significant case or development happen during the time that he was U.S. Attorney in that four-month period? I don’t know. No. – 51 – Ms. Carney: He went back to what was essentially a pretty familiar position, with familiar people, people he had known in the office and so on? Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs Wright: Ms Carney: Mrs. Wright: Right. And, then what was his reaction when the election turned out as it did? I remember calling him up and saying, “When do I pack?” And he said, “We’ll have to wait and see.” So, actually I ended up waiting to see for — oh, that was — while he was there as U.S. Attorney — again these dates are a little fuzzy to put it mildly. No, I don’t think so, I think they can be tied down if we had a calendar and marked down the particular dates, we could figure it out by pinning it to the election. The election was in November 1948 and it appeared that Skelly’s position as U.S. Attorney was good for four years. He had to decide what he really was going to do, where would that lead him, what did that hold for his ultimate future? So there was a decision to make between coming back and continuing his practice here and picking up where he had left off or taking this other work down the road and staying in public service there in New Orleans? Right. Well, I think his inclination was to serve a bit of his time, but, ultimately I think he did feel that he had done a lot of public service and the road at the end of the U.S. Attorney’s was very precarious, very iffy, where would you go from there. Ideally, a lot of people do go to a Federal District Judge- ship. There was no judgeship open, and he, I’m sure, agonized over this for awhile, when sure – 52 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: enough a judgeship did open up on the Fifth Circuit. Skelly was only 38 years old and Skelly had a very good chance at that judgeship because he was almost the lone Truman supporter in Louisiana; most of them became Dixiecrats and supported Strom Thurmond. I gather from my reading that Truman‘s name wasn’t even scheduled to be on the ballot in Louisiana, is that so? Right. Skelly saw to it that the name went on the ballot under the sign of the donkey. The rooster was the traditional democratic symbol for the democratic party and Strom Thurmond’s name was under the rooster, and Skelly saw to it that Mr. Truman’s name was on the ballot under the donkey. So it was — let’s just say that the Democrats were certainly grateful for him to be on the ballot — so, I say, I don’t honestly know enough about politics to be able to evaluate all that but those are the facts. I see. How did the opening on the Fifth Circuit come up? Judge Lee, who was a Circuit Judge from Mississippi, died and that created the vacancy. This was after the election sometime? Yes. So, Skelly had already determined to stay on for awhile in New Orleans? Yes. And you were packing the bags? No. No, not yet? – 53 – Mrs. Wright: No. I didn’t know what to plan. I was trying to take care of my child. Ms. Carney: I see, I see. So the possibility of the Fifth Circuit Judgeship came about and was that the first time he had really thought that he might go and try to become a judge? Mrs. Wright: Oh, I think not. Since he had spent so much time in the U.S. Attorney’s office before the war, I think — he always did have a great feeling of respect and maybe awe but certainly appreciation — that’s a good word — for the judiciary and he watched Judge Borah who was the Federal District Court Judge in action and admired him tremendously. I’m sure he always thought that would be the greatest thing that could happen would be to become a federal judge . Ms. Carney: When he went back to take the U.S. Attorney’s position maybe that was something that was in the back of his mind? Mrs. Wright: Could be, I don’t know. Ms. Carney: So, he tried then — and this would have been in 1949 probably because the election was in 1948 — he expressed an interest in this Fifth Circuit vacancy? How did he do that and what happened? Mrs. Wright: That’s right. There are so many intricacies, people, and so on, but the general gist was that he was by all accounts the leading candidate, so to speak, for this judgeship but Judge Hutcheson who was the chief judge of the Fifth Circuit felt very strongly that Skelly was too young to become a circuit judge and he tried to block it. But, he finally worked out an agreement with Judge Borah who was the Federal Dis- trict Judge that he, Judge Borah, would take the circuit job and Skelly Wright would take – 54 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Judge Borah’s Federal District Court judgeship. And, that’s what happened. I see. And, Borah – B-o-r-a-h, is that right? Wayne Borah. Wayne. Was this the only District Court judgeship available in Louisiana at the time? Yes. That was in New Orleans. Had Judge Borah been on the bench for a good while? Yes. Over 20 years. Over 20 years. So he was elevated? Yes. I shouldn’t be so positive but I guess it to be about 20 years. Judge Borah was then elevated and Skelly Wright took the position of the Federal District Judge in Louisiana? It’s called the Eastern District of Louisiana. Eastern District of Louisiana. And when would that have happened? That was, let me think, that would have been, probably the summer of 1949 or spring of 1949. Did you have any particular feelings at the time about his decision? Well, I didn’t relish moving to Louisiana. I certainly didn’t relish government service for him or our future, but, I knew this is what he wanted and I knew it would give him the security which I felt he also really needed and – 55 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: those were the days where wives had their opinions and expressed them but they weren’t worth much. I don’t mean that unkindly. I’m just trying to say what Skelly was going to spend 8 hours a day doing for the rest of his life was very important and that’s what he wanted and that was it. You don’t quibble over that but I didn’t especially look forward to it. That was a big change for you to leave Washington. Well, I’d grown up here but of course I’d also lived in New York and London and I was not totally inflexible, but it was a change. And, Washington, you know, is exciting and the hub of the world really and Louisiana was hardly the hub of much except New Orleans. Had you spent much or any time in New Orleans? I went down over New Year’s of the first year we were back. My answer would have to be no. So when did you eventually move then? I moved in August of 1949. From one hot place to another hot place. That’s right. You packed up and went down and joined Skelly. Had he taken the bench already then? Yes. Yes. And where did you live in New Orleans? Well, we first lived in what was the Bienville Hotel while we house hunted. Skelly got a suite there, an apartment is a better way to – 56 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: put it, it was a hotel down at Lee Circle, and we hired the sister of Skelly’s mother’s maid to work for us and look after Jim while I house hunted. How long did it take you to find something you wanted and to get established? Oh, several months. We found a house ultimately on Newcomb Boulevard uptown and I’m ashamed to say it, I don’t know when we moved in but it probably was a couple of months any way. We did take a cruise that was kind of an inspiration, I don’t know who inspired Skelly but whatever, he did take me on a cruise to Cuba and LeSaba, Honduras on a banana boat. We’d been apart a lot. I had not been at all well, so these were all kind of fence mendings. It was nice. Did ydu take a week or two? I think it was about 10 days. Ten days. And when was that — that winter after you arrived in New Orleans? It was that summer, right after I got there, shortly after I got there. Right after. And, did you leave young Jim? Jim was with Skelly’s brother and sister-inlaw, who moved into the Bienville Hotel into the apartment and we had Harriet as well. So you had plenty of help then to go off. Yes. Do you remember Cuba and Honduras then? – 57 – Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Yes, it was of course pre-Castro. And, Cuba was a real heel-kicker-upper kind of a place. It was very joyous, happy and loud and colorful and we had a wonderful time. LeSaba, Honduras, was a banana plantation we visited, and that was fascinating. We got on a train that was right there at the port, so we went East to West right through, across from the Atlantic to the Pacific on this train through the banana plantation. We saw all of these little poor children standing by the railroad with their hands out begging. The first of many begging scenes I’ve experienced, but it was sad. It was a lush, beautiful country, but LeSaba was just a little ship port, nothing there to see. Was this kind of travel that you and Skelly enjoyed? We didn‘t do very much traveling in our lives together actually. Most of our travels were judicial committee meetings, that sort of thing, interesting places, but primarily in the U.S. – Aspen, Colorado, and Boulder and Estes Park, Oregon and Galveston, Texas, different places in the U.S. primarily. So, this was particularly a special trip for the two of you together? Yes. That’s lovely. I think my picture of preCastro Cuba is shaped by “Guys and Dolls.’’ Have you seen that? Right. Good example. That‘s what it sounds like to me. Well, then you returned and he returned to the bench and you got yourselves established there in New Orleans. Did you meet friends of Skelly‘s then and some of his family? – 58 – Mrs. Wright: Well, yes. There were four boys and three girls, Skelly being one of the four boys, and his middle brother Richard was in South America. Richard was head of the Texaco operation in Caracas, Venezuela and so he came to New Orleans on vacations. We didn’t see a great deal of them but he and Jane had three little children. His brother Jimmy was ten years younger than Skelly and Jimmy at that point, I think was just getting married. Skelly was devoted to Jimmy, so he was very close to him but because of the age difference they were on different paths at the time, and Eddie was the oldest, he was the one, he and his wife Marion, they did not have children but they were dear and they were the ones who looked after Jimmy when we went away. Ms. Carney: What was his family’s reception to the notion of Skelly being a Federal District Judge? Mrs. Wright: Oh, thrilled! Ms. Carney: Do you recall how the time started for him on the bench in New Orleans? Mrs. Wright: Not really. My recollection was that there were, I started to say mundane cases, but that’s not really true. One big case was the trial and conviction of Carlos Marcello for drugs and tax evasion. I remember that was one of the headline stories at the time, but it seemed comparatively quiet initially. Ms. Carney: 1/11 pause the tape for a minute because I think we might be able to find some memory prompters in your book manuscript. Mrs. Wright: Oh, good. I need it at this point. – 59 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: So when Skelly began sitting on the District Court, he had the usual run of cases and you’ve said that nothing particular stands out in your mind from his first months. He had no particular colleagues, I suppose if he was the sole district judge. Herbert Christenberry was the other district judge. Those were the two District Court judges . And, of course, he had known Herbert Christenberry well from their time in the U.S. Attorney’s Office together. Right. Did the Fifth Circuit have a judge sitting there in New Orleans at the courthouse? Yes. The Fifth Circuit’s headquarters were in New Orleans. They did sit there. The Circuit was comprised of the states of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. I think I got them all. I think that sounds — That was the Fifth Circuit. But, the headquarters was in New Orleans? Right. So, the Fifth Circuit judges were there. They did not live there — only Wayne Borah did. And do you recall some of the Fifth Circuit judges at the time when Skelly was there? – 60 – I I Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney Mrs. Wright: Well, yes, of course. There was Wayne Borah, who went up and was the Louisiana judge. There was Cameron of Mississippi, Rives of Georgia was a wonderful man and Tuttle equally wonderful. I don’t know — Tuttle was appointed by Eisenhower; Rives, I think was appointed by Mr. Truman. The dates again now, I can’t tell you who was there when we first got there, except, as I say, for Borah and Cameron and Rives. Judge Wisdom. John Wisdom came on later; he was also an Eisenhower appointee. I see He, I think, John Wisdom took Wayne Borah’s place when Wayne Borah stepped down. I think that’s right. I see. So Skelly was in the same courthouse then with Judge Christenberry and he had his own courtroom. Do you remember his courtroom? Do you remember what his courtroom was like? Well, yes. It looked like most courtrooms. You know, beautiful paneled walls, paneled bench. Well, as I say, it looks to me most courtrooms look kind of all alike but one of the things I remember so well. They had those beautiful brass spittoons. I always thought, he should have seen if he could buy one to bring it home as a memento. After awhile they weren‘t used any more, but, they sat on opposite sides of the bench, these bright shiny things — kind of real historic pieces. Did he have a law clerk? He did not have any law clerks for the first nine years he was on the bench. The Chief Judge of the Circuit, Judge Hutcheson, did not – 61 – Ms. Carney: approve of law clerks. He didn’t think judges needed law clerks (he’s another Fifth Circuit judge from Texas). I remember him well. But he did not approve of law clerks. Skelly had a messenger and a secretary, and everything he wrote, he researched, cited, I guess you call it, and wrote for the first 9 years, that‘s too long,,he wasn’t there 9 years. His very first law clerk was Peter Powers, who is now up here in Washington, and then he had a second law clerk, Jack Martzell, and then Frank Weller – then Louie Claiborne, those four. He had those people as clerks when he was a District Judge in New Orleans, towards the end of his time in New Orleans. Judge Hutcheson was no longer Chief Judge then? Mrs. Wright: I think maybe John Brown by then had gotten to be Chief Judge. I know he was for many years; we have to get out Who‘s Who to look that up. Ms. Carney: No, this is fine. This is fine. So he worked with his secretary and wrote longhand or typed what he wrote? Mrs. Wright: He didn’t type, he dictated. Ms. Carney: He dictated. Even opinions, then, he was able to dictate? Mrs. Wright: Oh, yes. He had his first secretary, Kathleen Rude11 and she was wonderful, and she went on and got a law degree, I think maybe she even had a law degree and then decided to go out and practice law; and then he got another secretary, Dorothy Cowen, who likewise went out and got a law degree. He inspired all kinds of people. And, ah, he got Martha Scallon, and Martha was with him down there and then came up here and was his secretary for quite a lot of years. – 62 – Ms. Carney: Well, let’s turn now then to the desegregation cases that began before Brown v. Board of Education. The first one concerned the LSU Law School. Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: LSU Law School. Right. What do you recall about how that came about, how that case came up? Mrs. Wright: I’m trying to be sure that I got that law school and the undergraduate school straight. The law school was definitely first and I couldn’t tell you who was admitted. It didn’t really seem to create such terrible furor; there certainly were ripples, and though there were the harsh segregationists who made a bit of noise but it wasn’t really until it got down to the first LSU undergraduate case that it created a real racket. Ms. Carney: So, the LSU Law School, he held that that facility was not equal to the facility that was available for blacks to study law? Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Blacks. Yes And that didn’t create such a big flurry, you’ re saying? Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: No, nothing, well everything is relative. Yes, and in retrospect it probably looked a bit raucous but nothing compared to what ultimately happened. There were no mob scenes, no screaming women in hair curlers nor any of those things. Do you recall whether that decision was a particularly difficult one or one that Judge Wright thought lots about; or was it just apparent on the face of things when it was presented to him that that’s what had to be said? – 63 – Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: I think his expression was they were separate but unequal. It apparently wasn’t even close. The legal education for the blacks in Louisiana could not hold a candle to the education that the whites were getting. And, that decision would have been in the early SO’S? 1951 maybe? Yes. And, the LSU undergraduate admissions case? That’s when Moria1 was admitted. I’m sure it was to the undergraduate and not the law school, don’t hold me to it, but he was the black man who ultimately became mayor of New Orleans and his son is now mayor. How do you spell his name? M-o-r-i-a-1. And, his first name was — 1/11 have to come back to that one. Do you know whether Skelly consulted with his colleagues on the bench about this at all? Sometimes these cases were three-judge cases, in which case, obviously, there was consulta- tion. But, I would have to say Skelly was basically a loner. Most of everything he did — if it were — as I say a three-judge case, obviously he consulted judges in the panel — but if he were the lone district judge, my appraisal would be that he pretty much decided these things on his own. Was he aware or were you aware of the path that you were starting down with these decisions? I wasn’t. Well, I guess its safe to say that Skelly really didn’t — he did what he thought was right at the time and I don’t think he – 64 – Ms. Carney: worried too much about the future or even the consequences. If it was the thing to do, he did it without any agonizing or — I am sure he agonized occasionally on some of these things. As his famous quote says, “The problem of changing mores” — he knew it was difficult and would be but that didn’t change things. There’s a story I’ve read about Skelly attending a Christmas Eve party in the U.S. Attorney’s office and looking out of his window at the Lighthouse for the Blind, that was a lasting moment for him. Do you recall? Mrs. Wright: Yes. The party was not the U.S. Attorney’s office party but rather the party for the blind at the Lighthouse for the Blind right across the street from the courthouse. Skelly – it was the moment when I think he realized so strongly and firmly that segregation was intolerable. He looked out and he saw these vans. They would go around the city and bring the blind people to the Lighthouse for these festivities. He looked out and these vans would pull up in front of the Lighthouse and the blind would be helped out and into the building. The whites were all led in the front door and the blacks were all taken around to the back door. The thing that hit him so firmly was that blind people couldn’t segregate themselves and if ever there was a startling example of how wrong it all was, that had to be it. Ms. Carney: A touching moment, right at Christmas time Mrs. Wright: Yes. Maybe Mr. Bass said it better. Ms. Carney: No, that’s just the way he tells it. He reports that Skelly said, “It didn’t shock me. I looked at it twice, believe me, but it didn’t shock me. It just began to eat at me and it eats at me now. It began to make me think more – 65 – of the injustice of it. The whole system, I’ve taken for granted. And that was the beginning.” I thought that was a moving moment. I am trying to think how we would place that in time. Mrs. Wright: I have a feeling. I could be wrong, but it was when he was U.S. Attorney or Assistant U.S. Attorney. It was before he was a judge. Ms. Carney: Well, that makes sense. Mrs. Wright: Yes. Ms. Carney: There was another case brought and he admitted a black undergraduate to LSU. This is Moria1 who later became mayor of New Orleans. Ms. Carney: And from there, we have orders to desegregate the New Orleans city buses and parks. So, this is over the course of the early 50’s but then Brown vs. Board of Education was handed down. There was additional support provided by the United States Supreme Court to Skelly’s rul- ings. Do you recall his reactions when Brown was handed down? Do you remember talking about that with him? Mrs. Wright: Not really. I think, first of all, the fact that it was unanimous, he was inspired by that. He thought, high time, three cheers, isn’t it wonderful. Now we’ve got some basis on which to do things. We must do without hanging out alone like that. Ms. Carney: He must have felt very much alone in the city even in those early years before things got quite so heated and — Mrs. Wright: When the buses and street cars were — Ms. Carney: caused a furor in New Orleans. – 66 – Mrs. Wright: Yes. Partly because, of course, that really involved the people a lot more than, say, LSU. That’s up the river and didn’t really affect the people too much except for what it showed in the way of possibly what might be coming. When you get down to where you’re going to sit on the bus and whether you had to sit next to a Negro, black — one called them Negroes then — or whether you could have the park to yourself or were you going to have those little Negro children coming in and wanting to use the swings. Those touched the people in their lives and it really did create a ruckus. One of those cases, I don‘t know which one it was, but I have a feeling it was the streetcars. As soon as the case would come down someone would hear it on the radio and pick up the telephone and start screaming epithets through the phone at me; I was home answering the phone. I remember one of these cases when he failed to tell me he was going to issue this order and I got these vile phone calls. I called him up and I said, “What have you done, sugar?” “Oh, why, what?“ I said, “They’ re screaming again. “ He told me what he‘d done and I said, “Don’t you ever do it again without giving me a little warning — to answer the phone or not answer the phone, or whatever.” Ms. Carney: The people would call your home — ? Mrs. Wright: Oh, yes. Ms. Carney: — and rant and rave. What other reaction did you and he and your son feel to these early decisions, particularly about the parks and buses, that changed the shape of the city so much? Mrs. Wright: It, of course, changed our lives too. I found, as I have said, former friends, people who had fawned over us when Skelly was one of two judges, big fish in a little pond, and a lot of – 67 – people, I guess, figured it’s important to butter you up, or whatever. Then when these decisions come down that are controversial, all of a sudden they run for cover. They are no longer your friends. There were several instances, and it was hard, to some extent, on our son. NOW, the timing, again, of all these things, it started very slowly with LSU and it got a little noisier with the parks and the buses. By the time you got to the school desegregation, the lower grades, of course, it was a full blown storm. So, the stories I could tell, you know, not necessarily over buses or parks, but rather the general desegre- gation situation. Ms. Carney: And this was over the course of ten years from the early ‘50s to 1962? Mrs. Wright: Yes. One of the stories that I tell is in speaking of the people I call the “former friends.“ First of all it‘s a very good educational experience to find out who really likes you for you and who really likes you because of don’t recommend you make your friends that way. This particular time this friend had been so chummy. She and I worked together on the Cancer Society and we lunched. We would have meetings maybe once a week and we would have lunch after the meetings. We had a lot to talk about in our mutual interest in good works. At this particular time we were having lunch and she turned to me and said something like, “Helen, there’s something I‘ve got to say to you.” I knew where she stood on these issues and it was not where Skelly and I stood at all. I said, “Never mind, I know what you‘re going to say, but, I don‘t think it should affect our friendship. Skelly does what he believes is right and though you may not agree with it, that‘s certainly your privilege and I don’t think it should affect our friendship.” “NO, what you do. The latter is certainly not — I – 68 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: no, I’ve got to say this.” I said, “All right, what is it?” She said, “You’ve just got to know that there are times when I am ashamed to be seen with you.“ I said, “Well, 1’11 tell you something, you need never be ashamed again.” That was the end of that. That was the end of the friendship? How did Skelly handle it? — Did he become increasingly isolated then, from the people over that time? He always was something of a loner and, yes, he did become more so. One time he was walking on Camp Street where the courthouse was and some man tried to push him into the street into the traffic. So, as he said later, I made it a point always to walk up next to the buildings after that. How about in the chambers? He had his secretary and he had — A messenger – a messenger. When it got really bad he had the Marshals. We had the police staying in our house 24 hours a day. The Marshals would pick him up and take him to the courthouse and bring him home. Of course, they were stationed outside of his chambers at the courthouse. When would that have come about, when we get past the parks case and the — No, that was later. Jack Bass wrote that in 1960, New Orleans public schools became the first in the deep south to admit blacks to previously all white schools. He said that at the height of the crisis a poll in New Orleans showed that more – 69 – Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: than 908 of the public recognized Skelly Wright by name, whereas only 70% could name the mayor of New Orleans and fewer could name the governor. Was that — I would go into a department store and hand them a credit card and I would get the awful looks, you know, people obviously hating, again, the recognition of these names. Did you continue to be active in volunteer work during this time? Yes And that was with what organizations? Well, Christ Church Cathedral, I was very active there and through that, Milne Home. Mental Health, I was very active. I served on the United Fund, I served on their board and I solicited for them. I worked with the Social Welfare Council. I worked, as I said, with mental health. Both locally and the state organizations were located in New Orleans. I worked there and then I worked on the national board out of there. I didn’t let any of those things be diminished. So you kept busy and went about your life and then you had a son. What did you call your son, “Jim”? He was “Jimmy” then. When he came up here he changed it to “Jim“. Was he going to school near your home? He went to Metairie Park Country Day School. It was a private school, of course, and that didn’t help matters any. But, he started there when we first went down there. He went first to nursery school and straight from nursery – 70 – school into Metairie Park — that’s where all of his friends from nursery school went and where the children of our friends went. That was just what was done and he was happy there. Skelly, quite rightly, decided that he shouldn’t disrupt his — Jim’s life for — well he would call it a principle I guess, if you would. I don’t know, or maybe — I don’t want to put words in his mouth that shouldn’t be. We discussed it and he decided that he could not subject Jim to a change of his whole routine, his whole life, on the strength of the hatred of people. It was the thing to do to send him to that school when we got there and it was still the thing to do and he couldn’t let these vicious forces further disrupt. Ms. Carney: In effect, there were other kinds of disruptions that Jimmy had to deal with in any event. Mrs. Wright: Oh, yes. No question. Ms. Carney: So, having that stability was helpful for him. And that was the years when he was five, six, seven? Mrs. Wright: He was 15 when we left Ms. Carney: I understand that it was in 1960 that federal marshals were called to escort Judge Wright. Can you describe how that came about? Was there a particular decision that had shocked people? Was this part of the dispute over public schools? Mrs. Wright: This was the schools’ decision. And, he got terrible hate mail, He was threatened all the time. When they tried to push him into the street, his life was in danger. There’s no question about that. Ms. Carney: What kind of effect did you see this having on him? – 71 – Mrs. Wright: He was a very placid gentleman and he was not fearful, heavens knows. In many respects he did what he had to do, come what may. Ms. Carney: Did he have any other matters on his docket to temper the intensity of the desegregation matters ? Mrs. Wright: Oh, sure, he had a lot of admiralty cases down there. There was a lot of admiralty law. It wasn’t all this at all. He had diversity of citizenship cases when you had accidents with insurance companies involved in different states. He had a lot of those. Ms. Carney: What about his family, did they rally around during that difficult time? Mrs. Wright: Yes. One sister lived in Birmingham, Alabama, and two sisters lived in New Orleans. But he was not close to them except sort of on holiday occasions. I don’t know how they felt. He was their brother and they were proud of him. They would have supported him, but I think, deep down inside, they felt like a lot of the people did, that this wasn’t the way to go. His brother Jimmy was very supportive. This is hard for me to try, as I say, to analyze where they were coming from. I just know that we only saw them on holiday times and such occasions and at his mother‘s house. We would go often on Sunday afternoon, have Sunday lunch and then they‘d play ball out in the garden after lunch. But, again, he was basically a loner. Ms. Carney: Did the other judges, as far as you know, provide any kind of informal support for him or was there some split opinion among them? Mrs. Wright: Oh sure. There was support, especially from Herbert Christenberry, of course: he obviously supported him. They were the only two judges – 72 – Ms. Carney: you see there at the time on the District Court. On the Circuit Court were John Wisdom, a great supporter of his, and John Brown was and Richard Rives and Albert Tuttle. They were all really wonderful supporters of Skelly’s. How did it happen that most of these cases got assigned to Skelly’s docket as opposed to Herbert Christenberry’s? Mrs. Wright: Well, the way they assigned them was that one of them got the even numbered cases and one of them got the odd. Most of these did seem to fall to Skelly. You got a 50/50 chance of getting it. He certainly got the majority of them. Ms. Carney: I recall reading that between 1952 and 1962 Skelly issued 41 separate judicial decisions related to the school desegregation case. I take it there was a lot of activity and resistance and this was kind of a continual hammer beat. Mrs. Wright: The legislature, you see, in Baton Rouge, would pass these bills. As fast as Skelly would hand down a decision, the legislature would pass a law trying to nullify the opinion and as fast as they passed the law the clerks of the court would come out — Skelly would sign an order nullifying as unconstitutional the law that they had just passed. So, whether you count those in the whole scheme of things or just what it was. I remember the phone would ring and mostly I would answer it, but they would ask to speak with him and when it was clear that it was somebody from the courthouse, he would get on the phone and he’d say, “Yes, come on out.” So, they would come out at all hours of the day or night. Well, not day, he was downtown during the day, but weekends and – 73 – nights they would come out there with these orders for him to sign. Ms. Carney: There was constant pressure then. And how did he and you react to press reports as well? Did you ever just stop reading the local newspapers to get some relief? Mrs. Wright: Quite the reverse. I made five scrapbooks. I worked very hard on them. The first one was a beautiful leather bound book. I made the first one from a scrapbook his mother had and I put it into this new one and then caught up with what I had neglected — this was before all Of the racket. I had this one book and had ordered the second. When everything started exploding I ended up ordering about three more. So, I clipped madly and kept up — I couldn’t really keep up. I got a bit behind, to put it mildly. Then when I came up here, I had these file folders still of the things there, but, really, I guess tragic isn’t too strong a word. When I got up here a couple people would come and they wanted to know about Louisiana and I‘d say, “Well, look at the books.” I found that the glue didn’t hold in some instances and it discolored the clippings in others and they slithered over the pages. Ms. Carney: So, they have not remained put together that well? Mrs. Wright: Well, I certainly didn’t do any more and I’ve still got them all there. I haven‘t the heart, I just haven‘t the heart to go back and put them back together. Ms. Carney: Did you clip from national newspapers as well? Mrs. Wright: Yes, if people would send things down. Ms. Carney: Do you recall any of the individuals who were active in the public school desegregation – 74 – cases? Jack Bass mentions one person, named Leander Perez. Could you describe this Leander Perez? Mrs. Wriaht: Well, first of all Leander Perez was a Ms. Carney: neighbor. He was from Plaquemines Parish. He was the king or lord of the parish. He ruled with an iron hand and of course, had all kinds of oil interests. He was extremely wealthy. His permanent home was on Newcomb Boulevard, just up the street from us. I remember going soliciting for the March of Dimes. He was a “southern gentleman” from way back, but he was a hater from way back, too. He was gallant and wordy. Anyway, he gave me the biggest contribution on the block, which was great. Leander Perez was the king of his domain and a real segregationist. Bass says that Perez orchestrated both the state and local resistance to desegregation in New Orleans. Is that your impression, that he was behind it? Were there any other particular figures that — Mrs. Wright : Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: One was Emile Wagner who was on the school board and he had been one of Skelly’s bosom buddies in high school days. He and Skelly were very, very close. He was, as I say, on the school board and, he turned into an arch segregationist. Total opposite side of Skelly. I am just realizing that the actual school desegregation case began in 1952. Oliver Bush was the PTA president of a black school and the father of 13 children, and filed a class-action suit. Was that \52? Ms. Carney: That’s what it says, yes. – 75 – Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Well, of course it was, because Brown was ’54. It was well before Brown. So, it was before Brown that the case went up and got sent back after Brown as well as for further action. Mrs. Wright: If that’s what Mr. Bass says, I am sure it’s accurate. Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Do you remember anything about Oliver Bush? No, except that he was a courageous black man who stuck his neck way out. He was vilified. I don’t think I ever met him. Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Reviewing some of Jack Bass’ very detailed writing about this — he has a lot of written materials at his disposal, including the court decisions — he refers to 1956, when a threejudge court of Circuit Judge Borah and Judge Christenberry and Skelly, struck down the segregation laws as invalid under Brown. So, sitting as a three-judge court he must have taken some comfort out of being part of a three-judge court periodically to review these and give his decisions greater authority. Soon after, Jack Bass writes, on a Sunday morning at home, while still drafting his order in this case, requiring admission of children to schools on a non-discriminatory basis with all deliberate speed, Skelly picked up a program from a Mardi Gras ball and — It was an invitation, actually. It was an invitation? This was at home. Do you recall when he did this? Mrs. Wright: Yes. Sitting on the edge of the bed, I was there, and he picked this thing up and he sat. He scribbled it all out and I never knew what ever happened to that original writing. – 76 – Obviously, he took it downtown to the court- house to have it incorporated in his opinion. It was very eloquent and he had hoped that perhaps it would elicit some support, particularly from the religious community, some understanding, of where he really was coming from. Ms. Carney: Had y6u been to church that morning? Mrs. Wright: Yes. Skelly was a kind of a fallen away Roman Catholic. Ms. Carney: So it was a Sunday morning at home when he sat down drafting his order, and wrote that, “We are, all of us, free born Americans with the right to make our way unfettered by sanctions imposed by man because of the work of God.” Mrs. Wright: The beginning of it is almost as eloquent. “The problem of changing a people’s mores is not to be taken lightly. It will require the utmost patience, forbearance and understanding of all of us of whatever race. But the magnitude of the problem may not nullify the principle and that principle is that we are, all of us, free born Americans with the right to make our way unfettered by sanctions imposed by man because of the work of God.” Ms. Carney: Those words have meant a lot to many people over time. It’s wonderful thinking of him sitting there on the edge of the bed on Sunday morning, in the light — Mrs. Wright: When I worked for the Mental Health Association we would give gifts to outgoing presidents and we gave a gift to Earl Warren, Jr., who had been national president of Mental Health. We got him what is called the Steuben football. It was a crystal football-shaped piece with a flat surface on the front on which you could inscribe whatever it was you wished to inscribe. I thought, I am going to put – 77 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Skelly’s words on a Steuben football. So, I went, when I was in New York at one of these times, I went up to inquire, and I can‘t remem- ber, I think it was like $5.00 a letter. I decided I couldn’t afford it, so he ended up with his little plastic plaque. Did you read the opinion after? Did you know what he had written? How did this come to your attention? I knew he had written it. I know that he kept it on his desk at the courthouse. I gave it to him when he was still down there. So, you ended up with an inscribed plaque? I had it done, again, through Mental Health. I got this catalogue of plastic things that could be made and just had it inscribed by this company. I don‘t know the name of the company, but I got a catalogue and I just sent it off and had it done. He was pleased. When did you give it to him, for a holiday, or just a no-occasion gift? I just gave it to him. The public school desegregation orders became hotter and hotter issues over the course of the 50s. Ultimately, in 1960, in ’60, ‘61, I gather that the whole Louisiana state government was so opposed to implementing these orders that the struggle became one between federal and state power. Ultimately, it required federal force to help enforce Skelly’s orders in the state. – 78 – Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Part of the process was that Skelly ordered the desegregation. I think that‘s ‘53. And, the — When Judge Wright wrote those words? Fifty-three? I don’t have a day. It was fifty-six, 1956, February 15, and soI from ‘56 to ’60 when they actually helped the little girls into the school. It was the case with all deliberate speed syndrome and the school board was supposed to be planning to implement this order. It was necessary, he felt, and everybody felt, to monitor progress. So there were subsequent orders saying by suchand-such a time to come up with a plan and if you don‘t come up with a plan I’ll come up with a plan. They all dragged their feet and nothing was done. Much simmering under the surface, but, they did not come up with a plan. So, Skelly did. And then it started boiling over again. It would start with the lower grades and take a grade at a time. And they picked two schools in which these children were to be admitted. And then the Marshals descended on the schools and the crowds gathered outside the schools as these little children went in. So, Skelly had identified the two schools and ordered the grades desegregated and so on? I read somewhere recently just how it was determined and it was a critical appraisal. I do not know how they determined the schools. The school board determined the schools and I don’t think they were very properly selective. There were criticisms about the schools which they did choose. – 79 – Ms. Carney: But, the problem was that the school board was dragging its feet and kept on not coming up with any plan and essentially forced Skelly, then, to come up with his own plan. Otherwise it would never have come about. Mrs. Wright: Right. Ms. Carney: So, this wasn’t something he had gone into planning to operate down to the littlest detail? Mrs. Wright: No. When you issue an order you expected it to be carried out. MS. Carney: One issue that I did read about was a question about delaying some of the implementation of the school board plan. Skelly had set a deadline in 1960 for the school board to submit a desegregation plan and he said he wanted to begin in September, the following fall. But there was some question about whether he was going to get federal help to support the order and there may have been some discussion that when the school board requested a delay of the order, the Justice Department suggested that the delay ought to be granted and that after the election he would be able to get help. Is that what happened? Mrs. Wright: Yes. And I think part of it was, and, obviously Skelly agreed to it, that it made sense to delay it until after the election because the furor which would be caused by implementing it might have an effect on the election and it made sense not to have an election at the peak of all this furor. Ms. Carney: And this is 1960, so this was the Kennedy-Nixon election. So, it’s the Eisenhower Justice Department – – 80 – Mrs. Wright: The Eisenhower Justice Department would have done it if it were in September instead of November. Ms. Carney: So, Skelly had some conversations with the Justice Department, I gather, about what kind of help he could expect. And then on November 10, 1960, he issued an injunction against the Governor, the Attorney General, the State Police, the National Guard; the State Superintendent of Education and “all those persons acting in concert with them and enjoining them from enforcing the newly passed segregation statutes.” That must have been quite a time with a new President, a huge injunction here, and such furor. Do you recall those days? Mrs. Wright: Well, yes. They were tense, to put it mildly. Ms. Carney: Did you go out, did you stay inside, what did you do? Mrs. Wright: I just lived my life. Ms. Carney: Didn’t the Federal Marshals come to escort Skelly to — Mrs. Wright: I think they had come before then. That’s my recollection. It seems to me they went on forever. Ms. Carney: Were they in your house, in your home? Mrs. Wright: The police, the New Orleans Police Department came and stayed. We had a “high-low” house where the basement level was a recreation room and then the kitchen and the main quarters were up top. This recreation room library, whatever you call it on the ground floor, was where the police stayed. Sometimes they stayed outside in their cars, but, sometimes they came into the house. The Federal Marshals just came and – 81 – picked Skelly up and took him to the courthouse and brought him home. Ms. Carney: I recall your describing some awkwardness between yourself and members of the New Orleans Police Department. Mrs. Wright: They didn’t like his decision, let’s put it that way. They didn’t approve of him and I think they probably thought they would prefer that he not have the protection. Ms. Carney: Were they there when Skelly was at work and you were home with Jimmy? Were they there day and night? Mrs. Wright: I can’t really remember, but I think not. Ms. Carney: I recall your describing, also, an incident where you found a cross burning on your lawn. Would that have been in the early OS? Mrs. Wright: Yes. I had been to the opera with a friend and we came back. Skelly was asleep, he was a very early to-bedder. Jimmy was in bed asleep. And we came back and here was this blazing cross right in the middle of the lawn. I, of course, was frightened for Skelly and Jimmy and I went — my friend was equally frightened, and went tearing into the house and both of them just sound asleep, totally unaware as to what was going on. So, whoever planted it didn’t get the satisfaction of frightening Skelly, certainly. But, I woke him up. There was no car around. There were no people around. There was no mob. There was no anything. Just this blazing cross about six feet tall, eight feet tall; it seemed monumental. Anyway, I woke him up and he came on down and he knocked the cross over and stamped out the fire and took it apart, dismantled it, and put it in the driveway along side the house. – 82 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Did he call the police? Oh, sure And they came that night? Yes Did that ever occur again? No. But we heard it on the news. My mother heard it here in Washington, even. And, so it seemed to me that it was quite obvious that what these people wanted was first fear, but secondly, publicity. And, they got the latter but not the former. Was that one of the hardest nights for you during those years, or was that less hard than other things that you had to deal with? I think if there had been people around or strange cars or any evidence of potential physical harm I would have been more frightened. To me, it was just a cowardly symbol of intimidation and as far as I was concerned that was it. I say that retrospectively, but you can’t spend your life being afraid. Doesn’t get you anything anyway and I couldn’t see any imminent danger, so that was it. Just another thing to cope with, but this was a bigger thing to cope with. Did you talk with Jimmy much in those days about these difficulties? Well, some. He was a lot like his father, he was kind of monosyllabic but I remember he had an incident at a party he had gone to and one of the boys at the party started saying ugly things about Skelly and me. Jim swung on him and a chaperone broke up the fight. The next day the chaperone, who happened to be a clerk – 83 – at the courthouse, went into Skelly’s chambers and he said, “I just want you to know whatever that fracas last evening was, it was not your son‘s fault. I was proud of him, I watched him and I watched him defend you and Helen and I was proud of him and I hope that you don’t think for a minute that he lost his temper or cool or anything.” Skelly said, “What fracas?” Ms. Carney: He hadn’t heard anything about it? Mrs. Wright: Jimmy had come home and never said a word. Which makes you kind of proud that he didn‘t come whining, he didn’t come sniveling. Ms. Carney: It’s nice, also, to have the support of individuals in the courthouse who worked there. You feel that there is someplace that colleagues understand what you are about. * * * * – a4 – Ms. Carney: My name is Susan Carney and the date is January 28, 1996. This is the third in the series of interviews with Helen Patton Wright as part of the project of the D.C. Circuit Historical Society. It’s nice to be with you again, Mrs. Wright. Mrs. Wright: It’s nice to be with you, Susan. Ms. Carney: We have basically finished covering the early years and time in New Orleans, and now we are going to turn to Judge Wright’s appointment to the D.C. Circuit. Even before that, I guess, the difficulties in considering appointment to the Fifth Circuit, which you’ve touched on in some of your writings. I wonder if you could tell me what Skelly’s ideas were about sitting on the Fifth Circuit and, becoming a Court of Appeals judge, generally. Mrs. Wright: I think he really very much wanted to. After a time the trial judgeship as compared to the appellate judgeship was getting a little much, I think, considering the flood of cases and kinds of cases. Of course, he would have had similar cases as an appellate judge, but, not fly solo, so to speak, and I think it would have been a promotion and after a while a promotion is not all bad. So, I think he really hoped that perhaps he could go on the Court of Appeals, and of course, he knew the judges in the Fifth Circuit and it would have been a familiar place for him to be. With his reputation as “the desegregation judge, ” politically, he was an anathema and so Russell Long felt that he could not support him for a promotion and President Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy as Attorney General, realized this. They had gone both to Russell Long and as well to Senator Eastland who was chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the Senate and they all were determined there was no way they were – 85 – going to put him on the Fifth Circuit. I think the expression from the senator from the state is that he was “personally obnoxious, ” that‘s the expression they used. And, when such an appointment is “personally obnoxious” to the senator the Senate pretty well goes along with it and it has little or no chance of passing. Bobby Kennedy called Skelly and said as much as he and the President wanted to put him on the Fifth Circuit. There was just no way they could do it. They wanted to tell him so before they made another appointment and expressed their regret. I think Skelly secretly kept hoping maybe they would fight. You know, have a good floor fight on the Senate floor. I think maybe he felt he had earned it or something. But, in any case, that was seldom, if ever, done. That was that and he settled back down to continue to try cases again. Ms. Carney: Do you recall around what year Bobby Kennedy called him to say that the Fifth Circuit was not a possibility? Mrs. Wright: It was approximately seven or eight months before he finally was appointed to the D.C. Circuit, which must have been about 1961. Well, of course, President Kennedy came in 1960. Ms. Carney: Elected in ’60, inaugurated in January ‘61. So it would have been sometime in ‘61? Mrs. Wright: So it happened in ‘61, that‘s right. It was in ‘62 that this vacancy opened up. Judge Barrett Prettyman took senior status on the D.C. Circuit and actually it was Byron White who called Skelly then. He was Deputy Attorney General, I think that was his title. He called Skelly and said that President Kennedy wanted to — that this vacancy had occurred on the D.C. Circuit – 86 – and that they wanted to put Skelly‘s name up for this vacancy and he had the weekend in which to think it over. They did not want it announced that Barrett had stepped down until they were also going to be able to announce that Skelly Wright was appointed in his place. They didn’t want all of the speculation and scrambling and whatever else. So, he had a weekend in which to think it over and he decided, yes, he would accept. Ms. Carney: Did he have any serious doubts? That appointment meant leaving New Orleans — good and bad, I suppose. What was your thinking together about it? Mrs. Wright: Well, I think part of it had to do with the fact that it was a unique circuit. In other words, it was a court that early on had handled a great many local issues and criminal issues. It was evolving at that time and ultimately did even more so. As a court, dealing a great deal with regulatory agencies of the government and it was gaining in importance. I think initially, it was a case of not being sure, I suppose, what he was getting into. The reputation and business of this court was not so well known and it wasn’t totally comparable to other circuit courts. So, again, I think Skelly was dubious as to what kind of cases he would be handling and did he want to do that. But, as I said, he had a weekend in which to decide and he decided on that weekend that he would come up here. I think he felt it was a good opportunity and it was the hub of government, and Washington was an interesting place. He liked it when he lived here before, and our son was born here. It was my home. But, that didn’t really have anything to do with his decision as such. Ms. Carney: Did he consult with anyone in particular, do you recall, anyone outside the family? – 87 – Mrs. Wright: If he did I don’t know. He was very apt to be his own counselor. He may have well talked to his brother. He and his brother were very close. I would be a bit surprised if he didn‘t talk it over with his brother. Ms. Carney: But he didn’t know any judges on the Court of Appeals here when he arrived? Mrs. Wright: No. He knew Justice Hugo Black. He was the Justice for the Fifth Circuit. Ms. Carney: Had he reconciled himself at that point then to not having a seat on the Fifth Circuit? Mrs. Wright: Oh, yes. Ms. Carney: Heading back for a minute: When he was thinking about generally moving to a Court of Appeals position, did he long especially to be in the Fifth Circuit since that’s the circuit in the area that he had been committed to for so long and worked so hard in? Mrs. Wright: I think what happens, those elevations or promotions generally are from the district court in a circuit to that particular circuit. There are very few times, except, perhaps, really, for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. This court here is made up of judges from all over. They are judges who come from the U.S. District Court, here. But, there are — Warren Burger was from Minnesota. He came up from a government slot. Carl McGowan was from Illinois. Back then, a lot of the judges were from elsewhere or they were selected out of government positions in the Department of Justice or one of the agencies. Now and since Skelly‘s appointment, there had been elevations from the U.S. District Court to the Circuit Court, but, it is the one circuit court that does have judges from — Ken Starr was from Virginia and they have them from – 88 – different parts of the country on the Circuit Court. So his chances, really, were to the best of his knowledge, the only promotion he felt he could get would be the D.C. Circuit. Ms. Carney: So, the Fifth wasn’t even a possibility that he would spend any time thinking about. But, then the D.C. Circuit opportunity made some sense, I supposel once proposed to him. They didn’t offer very much time to think it over. Mrs. Wright: No, they didn’t, but, as I say, I think they needed to — I think they felt, first of all, that he was deserving of a promotion. And, the only other promotion, of course, was to the U.S. Supreme Court, that would have been even better, let’s face it. But, as far as, “Rewarding him for his courage and his tenure and his decisions,” they couldn’t do it on the Fifth Circuit. There had to be another way of doing it, and as I say, the D.C. Circuit was the other possibility. Ms. Carney: Had he come to know Bobby Kennedy some during the early years of the Administration? Mrs. Wright: No. Ms. Carney: So it was just that one little phone call that he had about the Fifth Circuit? Mrs. Wright: As the Attorney General, they had dealings, of course, over some of these cases, the desegregation cases that Skelly handed down, but he didn’ t know him personally . Ms. Carney: But, I was thinking that although some of the desegregation cases occurred during the time that Bobby Kennedy was Attorney General, that was still a relatively short period of time until he got the appointment to the D.C. Circuit. – 89 – Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Right. Do you know how he — was it in that way that he had come to the attention of Bobby Kennedy and John Kennedy, through the desegregation cases, I assume? Well, I’d like to think it was more than just the desegregation cases. But, they were the headline grabbers, certainly. So, it was Byron White who called him then, and offered him this job? Yes. And, did he call Byron White back then on Monday and accept the job? How quickly was the transfer to take place? They had to have hearings, of course, before the Senate Judiciary Committee and then the full Senate voted — and that’s the time they said that when they had the hearings there wasn’t even one member of the Louisiana delegation to attend the hearings. Out of courtesy, generally, they do, but that was all right. Do you recall anything about the hearings? There was one man who had had a case before Skelly in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans. Skelly had decided against him and I don’t know what the case was. It was somewhat frivolous and he bore a grudge and he swore he was going to go up and he did come up to Washington and he did try to testify against him. It’s funny, this is just coming back to me. I had lost track of it, but he did come up and he did testify against him. It was, as I said, frivolous, but that was the only opposi- tion and frankly, of course, all the people who disliked him in Louisiana were so glad to get – 90 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Mr s Carney: Wright: him out of there that they weren’t about to come up and testify against him. you all take him. Did the hearing last a brief time, then? I think it was only a day, part of the day, it didn‘t go on — That would have been when? Let him go, He came up here in April of ‘62. So these hearings probably would have been in the early part of ‘62. And what were your feelings about coming back to Washington? Wel1,’very mixed emotions. here, my mother was here, I had friends here. But I also made a lot of friends in New Orleans and I had approached my life there as permanent full-time until the end of time. There were good loyal friends whom I was going to miss. But I was glad to be out of turmoil. It had been intense over a decade. How many years had it been then, that you had been in — I was there 13 years. And for a good portion, for two-thirds of that time, it was very intense. So you and Jim came back to Washington in August. Do you recall anything particular about your departure from New Orleans? My twin sister was We had a hard time selling our house. I thought it was a nice house in the university section and we had just put in a new kitchen and I thought it would go quickly. But we had a hard time. We moved up here and bought a – 91 – house here and we were house poor — two of them on our hands. Ms. Carney: Skelly began sitting immediately that spring? Mrs. Wright: Yes. I remember I “moved alone.” That seems to be the fate of wives. In other words, he came up, he was here sitting and Jim and I were in New Orleans. I was trying to sell the house and get packed up and so on. Skelly then flew down and then we drove up together. Of course, we had our lovely Irish Setter. So, Rusty came with us. Ms. Carney: So, you drove up and your things followed you? Mrs. Wright: Yes. When we got here, we arrived and Skelly had to go to the lawyer’s office to sign the papers for the house. He had an apartment on Corcoran Place down off of 18th Street. The house was empty, no furniture in it, obviously. My sister had a roll-away bed that I had left when we moved in the late ‘40s and so I brought the roll-away bed out and Rusty‘s mattress and Rusty and I stayed in the living room of the house with no furniture in it waiting for the furniture to come the next day. We went to the lawyers and signed some papers and then got the roll-away bed and Rusty and I stayed here and Skelly and Jim stayed down at the apartment. Ms. Carney: He had had an apartment on Corcoran Place? Mrs. Wright: He had it since spring. Jim and I came up in August. I forget the two dates for the appointments to the bench. It was in the fall when Skelly went on the U.S. District Court. It was in the spring that he got on the Court of Appeals. Jim and I came up in August of ‘62. So, Skelly had gotten that apartment when he moved up here to take his seat on the court. – 92 – So he had the apartment to stay in while he was sitting until you all arrived? Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Right. And Jim would have been how old then? He was fifteen. He was fifteen going into — Second year of high school. They called them forms. I can‘t remember what form that was, but he was sophomore in high school. And had you been pretty clear that you wanted him to go to St. Albans when you came back? Well, my brother had gone there. My sister was secretary to Bishop Dun of Washington and knew the head master of St. Albans School. Making plans for Jim to get into a school up here was difficult. We did not know where we would be living, not what schools to apply to, so to speak. So a good school, as I say, to which my brother had gone, and had a good reputation was a priority. If Jim could get in, that’s what I wanted to do. Otherwise, we, as I say, would go on to other schools, perhaps in the District where we were going to be living. Did you make a conscious choice between living in the District and living outside? No. We would have gone any place. But, well, Skelly found the house that we moved into without my ever having even seen it. I came up periodically and went house-hunting. For one reason or another, we did put a bid in on a house in the District and somebody snatched it out from under us with some suggestion that they hadn’t been quite honest. But, anyway, we – 93 – Ms. Carney: didn’t get it. So, then I would come again and look. This house we finally bought had been on the market quite awhile, but I hadn’t seen it. I had a friend who lived around the corner and I asked her please to go have a look and see about it from the point of view of our family. She said it was a lovely house. Good for entertaining and near good schools. We wanted to go into the Maryland School System, if St. Albans was out. A fenced-in yard for the dog, lovely trees. So, Skelly signed up and when I came up, the first time I saw it was with the roll-away bed and Rusty on his mattress. Arriving here in Washington you must have felt some relief, even though it meant a lot of new demands, because Judge Wright was no longer in the headlines every day. Do you recall how the circuit judges welcomed you and who was sitting at the time in the D.C. Circuit? Mrs. Wright: Yes. Ms. Carney: I think I might have a list here. Mrs. Wright: I made a reference someplace to the fact that Bastian and Miller — Ms. Carney: Yes, right in there Mrs. Wright: — and John Danaher. They were the old guards, as it were. Ms. Carney: Judge Bastian? Mrs. Wright: Yes, Walter Bastian, Wilbur Miller and John Danaher . Ms. Carney: And they were the more — Mrs. Wright: They were the sort of conservatives on the court. Ms. Carney: And then also sitting on the court at the time? – 94 – Mrs. Wright: There was Dave Bazelon, Charlie Fahy, George Washington. Ms. Carney: I think the list is still here. Mrs. Wright: Henry Edgerton, and Barrett Prettyman, he was senior. Charlie Fahy — Carl McGowan came after Skelly; he wasnft on the court when we arrived up here. But Henry Edgerton and Charlie Fahy were. Barrett Prettyman, Sr., Dave Bazelon, George Washington were on the court. Ms. Carney: Was there any kind of welcome or did Judge Wright just show up and get his chambers assigned and head off to work? Mrs. Wright: Actually, I wasn’t here when he was doing that. They, indeed, were welcoming. Even, I think the older judges thought he was something of a whipper-snapper. They were on in years. Ms. Carney: How old was Skelly at that time, in ‘62? Mrs. Wright: It was ’62 and he was born in 1911. So, he was 51. Ms. Carney: Some of the other judges were a good bit older? Mrs. Wright: They were well into their 60s. Ms. Carney: And, I imagine, he had a certain reputation, also? Mrs. Wright: Oh, yes. They all knew of him Ms. Carney: He did not arrive anonymously? Mrs. Wright: No. And, in Henry Edgerton, Barrett Prettyman, Charlie Fahy and Dave Bazelon, he had great admirers. They were pleased to see him. The older judges were not quite so pleased. I think they felt their grip on the court and – 95 – their philosophy was being eroded. And indeed it was. MS. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Do you recall anything about the first cases that he sat on? Well, not really. The one that stands out, of course, would be Hobson. That was after a year? He had a year’s worth of experience before he got his next dose of demanding cases. And, during that time, do you recall — this was a major adjustment professionally, as well, to come from running trials in the District of New Orleans, District of Louisiana, to sitting on appeals in the Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia. There was a very different kind of writing required and a much different experience in cases, and so on. Do you recall him commenting on that? I think he was challenged and I think he felt the change would stimulate him. He had kind of had it, I think, by then, with cases in Louisiana — of course, there was a lot of admiralty, he didn’t get admiralty here. But he used to go to New York every summer and he would try cases up there. That was like the postman taking a hike on his day off, his holiday. I don’t recall talking about that. He would go to New York and sit in New York? Every summer when he was in New Orleans he went up to New York in the summer and sat and Jim and I would go off to the beach. Skelly was not a beach bum at all. He didn’t like the beach but he would drive up and I would visit my family and he would go on off to New York. He would hold court up there as a trial judge. – 96 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: So he would sit in the Southern District of New York? Yes. He had some interesting cases up there, too. There was a lot of admiralty, which, of course, he knew a lot about particularly from his Louisiana experience. He had a murder case where they didn’t have a body. Ifve forgotten all the details, but it was a gangland murder of some kind, as I recall, they tried the man with no body. Did he go up to New York and sit there as a trial judge for five years in the summers, or even longer? Oh yes, about five years. So he had been coming back east, actually, and had connections back east before his appointment to the Circuit Court of Appeals here. Did you get to know any of the other D.C. judges socially, after you arrived and got yourself settled? Oh, yes. They were all friendly — we had real camaraderie amongst them all and we’d entertain in each other’s homes, sometimes the entire court and sometimes just one or two. And on the Supreme Court, also, you said he was friendly with Justice Black? Yes. He had known Justice Black as the circuit justice for the Fifth Circuit. When Justice Black was persona non grata in the Fifth Circuit, as Skelly was — whenever Justice Black would come down, Skelly would meet his plane and take him under his wing, so to speak, and protect him, if you will, from these people who thought he had horns. Justice Black appreciated it and he and Skelly were very close. He was a delightful gentleman. His first wife – 97 – had died — I know we met her before we moved to New Orleans but don’t know exactly when she died — I think after we had gotten down there. Anyway, Justice Black did remarry, Elizabeth, and we became very good friends. She came down with him to the circuit conferences and we had a lot of fun together. Ms. Carney: You already had a fairly close relationship with Justice Black and his wife before you came up. It must have given you comfort to have them here as you were arriving. Mrs. Wright: After I got here Elizabeth gave a perfectly lovely luncheon at the Supreme Court for me, with all the wives and everybody came. It was very nice, in the dining room at the court. Ms. Carney: Do you recall who Skelly hired as a law clerk when he first came to the court? Mrs. Wright: He brought up Louis Claiborne who had been his clerk in New Orleans and had been with him for two years. He came up here with a promise of a job in the Solicitor General’s Office. Louis was an extremely competent advocate. Skelly heard about Louis through Justice Frankfurter. Skelly was up here on some occasion and he called on Justice Frankfurter and Justice Frankfurter said to him, “Do you know, by any chance a young lawyer down there by the name of Louis Claiborne?“ And Skelly, said, no he didn’ t and Justice Frankfurter said, “Well, he’s practicing law. He came up here and he argued a case before our court, the Supreme Court, and he was beyond any doubt one of the best advocates I have ever listened to. You ought to look him up.” So Skelly looked him up and he was practicing law but not so successfully and Skelly asked him if he would like to be his law clerk. He leaped at the idea, chance. So, he was with Skelly for two years there. When Skelly was appointed up here – 98 – MS. Carney: he asked Louis if he would like to come. Louis was married and had two children. He looked into the idea of bringing them up. What was in Louisiana really wasn’t for Louis any more. He was native born — all kinds of connections, and absolutely brilliant. A little eccentric and that was one of his charms. So, Skelly investigated the SG’s office up here and they took him on Skelly’s recommendation. Part of it, of course, being what Justice Frankfurter said about him. Was he going to come up and work, then go right directly to work in the Solicitor General’s Off ice? Mrs. Wright: As I remember, he was just a few months with Skelly. I guess what happened, I suppose, I am not sure this is accurate but I have a feeling it was one of those practical things that people find they must do and that is to trans- fer as Skelly’s clerk. He could bring his family up, his way would be paid, it would be a continuation of the job he had with the understanding that in due time, he would probably transfer to something else. I think that‘s the way it worked. Ms. Carney: So, Louis Claiborne had been Skelly’s clerk then in New Orleans for a few years and had gotten through some of the turmoil with him, then? Mrs. Wright: Yes. He had Peter Powers first. Louis was his clerk from ’60 to ‘62, so it was two years — then came up here — Ms. Carney: Are they on your list — are there clerks from prior years, from just in New Orleans? Mrs. Wright: Yes. Peter Powers was his very first clerk. Old Judge Hutcheson didn‘t believe in clerks. So Skelly never had a law clerk until ‘58. And – 99 – that was Peter Powers. Peter was a Harvard graduate, as I remember. He was from the northeast and was a kind of, “well-connected young man.“ He was sort of the debutante’s delight, very bright, very attractive, and moved in a lot of circles with connections to people who would tell Skelly about him. He became his very first clerk. He subsequently became General Counsel of the Smithsonian. Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: And in the following year? He had a Francis Weller, Frank Weller, they called him. He was just one year, 1959. Was he from Louisiana? Yes, and he stayed down there and then he had Jack Martzell for a year and then Louis came on. And did Peter Powers and Frank Weller both come directly from law school or had they been practicing? I think both, pretty much, right from law school. When Louis came, he came expecting to clerk for a year, I assume, initially. Maybe two. Jack Martzell clerked with Louis, I see, according to this. He was a Louisianian, too. But Louis came on up to Washington and Jack stayed down to practice. How did Skelly like to work with his law clerks? Did he talk with you about that at all? He loved them and they loved him. The rapport between him and law clerks was exceptional. He discussed things with them. He asked their – 100 – opinion. He respected their opinion. He gave them a sense of being useful and knowledgeable and helpful. I think there are very few, there may have been one or two with whom he perhaps didn’t get along quite so well. But, generally speaking, they were all just crazy about him and he of them. Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: They worked very closely together, then? Yes. He would have them write for him and he’d share drafts with them, or did he just discuss the substance of opinions? Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Both. Did you see them very much? Did he develop personal relationships with them as well? We had parties. Some of them I got to know — Louis and Jackie very well. They were good friends. The others I would see during law clerk parties. Occasionally we would have some out to dinner or maybe at holiday time, if they didn‘t have a home to go to, they would come to have the holiday meals with us. But, generally speaking, some, as I say, I got to know better than others. So, Louis came up and then several months later, I gather, he went to the SG‘s office? Right. And who replaced him, then? Hugh Scallon who was Martha Scallon’s brother. He had just graduated from law school. I don’t know where he went, but anyway, Hugh became Skelly‘ s clerk. – 101 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Was Martha his secretary at the time? Yes. She came up with him, too. She had been there in New Orleans? Yes. He had three secretaries from the time he was there. The first one, Kathleen Rudell, had been a secretary and then she went on to law school and the same thing happened to Dorothy Cowen. She became his secretary: she went on to law school. He obviously inspired. And then Martha came, she had been in London. Ms. Cowen told Martha that she was leaving and would she like to have the job and so she leaped at it. She did come and so she was there in New Orleans and then came up here, and was with him to the end. So, then Hugh Scallon was there as the sole law clerk? Yes Pardon me, and then? Martin Levine followed Hugh. That was ’64 to ’65. Did Skelly spend a lot of time choosing his law clerk? No. In fact, he seldom interviewed his law clerks. Generally, speaking, it was a case of word-of-mouth recommendations. He often didn’t even interview them. He heard about them. But that’s not totally true. I know some he had interviews with, but towards the end, he really did rely on those whom he had to recommend people from their school and their class behind them. – 102 – Ms. Carney: What was he looking for in particular? What pleased him? Mrs. Wright: Smarts and invariably they were head of the Law Review at Harvard or Yale. He really did get top-notch clerks. He was sought after as a judge. A lot of these young people wanted very much to clerk for him. He had a reputation of being fair and decent and competent and a good person with whom to work. Toward the end almost all of them went on to the Supreme Court. So, that was another kind of incentive. Ms. Carney: They would end up clerking for which Justice? Mrs. Wright: Well, it’s interesting, quite a lot of them. They went to Bill Brennan and they went to — some, Hugo Black, Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day 0′ Connor, the Justice from the southwest. Ms. Carney: Justice Blackmun? Mrs. Wright: No, he was one too. Chicago? Stevens. He was hard to work for and he would have one clerk where other Justices would have four and five. I know Carol Lee clerked for Stevens and she was absolutely brilliant. I think she was perhaps the only one who didn’t complain about what a slave-driver he was. Ms. Carney: Was Justice Douglas on the court at the time? Mrs. Wright: Yes. He took some. They really, pretty much ran the gamut. I don’t know how long Frankfurter was on after Skelly got up here. I remember when Frankfurter came to the Court of Appeals for someone’s retirement — somebody was retiring and they wheeled this old gentleman in his wheelchair, sort of a nurse in attendance, and a male attendant. Justice Frankfurter was in fine fettle, I guess you call it, and got inspired and talked and talked and talked and he finally had to be wheeled – 103 – Ms. Carney: out, still talking. Not long after we got up here, Justice Frankfurter did retire. Moving back to some of the substance of Judge Wright’s work right after he came to the Court of Appeals: you said the first decision you really recall then was the Hobson case. Mrs. Wright: Well, the first one of any great moment. I guess part of the reason it’s so vivid in my mind, of course, because it was deja vu. School situations, school problems, segregation. The Hobson case basically dealt with the track system here in the District of Columbia. Children were given IQ tests and placed in a track out of which they were not likely to climb and the tests were not fair because they were often based on circumstances that would deal with the environment and the opportunities and these poor little children had no such environment or opportunities that would enable them to do well on these tests. So, it was not a test of their intellectual capacity, ability, but rather, much more about how they had been brought up, which wasn’t very good. Then the other problem in this was that there were schools on one side of the park, which were comparatively empty, on the other side they were attending in shifts. Skelly tried to equalize that out by having the children bused across town. That, of course, is where the term “busing” got its negative connotation. It was at the time a very controversial case because it did mean that there was integration where before due to neighborhood living patterns, they were basically segregated. Ms. Carney: NOW, this was as an Appeals Court judge, though, that he was – – 104 – Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: He was an Appeals Court judge, you‘re quite right. But the reason it fell to him was that all of the District Court judges, U.S. District Court judges, were responsible for the selection of the school board members. So, that automatically precluded their serving on the case. So it had to go to a judge on the Court of Appeals. And Judge Bazelon as chief judge assigned Skelly to it. This was not anything that Judge Wright had asked for? No. But it was not done randomly either? Maybe they had figured he had had this experience of school problems, that he would be a good one to do it. I don’t know what motivated him. Ms. Carney: Mrs Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: But, as chief judge he made the assignment, then? Right. He could have assigned anyone to it. And this assignment occurred about a year after Skelly started sitting? I would have to look that up. Approximately. How long did the case last? For a long time. I don’t, again, those dates and times kind of fade with the years. I would say it probably lasted six months. It was a long case. Was the public’s reception to it similar to what you’d experienced in New Orleans? – 105 – Mrs. Wright: Yes. But it wasn’t nearly so vehement. It wasn’t nearly so all-encompassing. There weren’t that many people affected. Living in Louisiana, of course, you had not just schools but you had buses and street cars and parks and so many other things that did affect all segments of the population. This dealt with just the public school system in the District of Columbia. Ms. Carney: What measure of support did Judge Wright receive from his colleagues on the court during his dealing with this case? Mrs. Wright: I don’t know. I am sure Charlie Fahy, Henry Edgerton and Barrett Prettyman and some of those others were cheering him on, but I don’t know. Ms. Carney: Did any aspect of the case go to the Court of Appeals, actually, during that time? Mrs. Wright: I suspect they appealed. Well, it couldn’t have — I don’t know. I should do some homework before I start trying to talk about some of these things. Ms. Carney: Was it awkward for you to have your son in St. Albans at the time when this was happening to the public schools in the District? Mrs. Wright: Yes, again, deja vu, same thing in New Orleans at Metairie Country Day School. But, each of those selections was made long before there was any discussion or issue of the public education. I mean, you went to the private schools in New Orleans. Everybody we knew sent their children primarily to Country Day. All of our friends — two good schools, Newman and Country Day. Most of our friends had their children in Country Day. Then the furor arose and of course we were criticized, but it wasn’t the case of putting him into these schools because it was a problem; rather, he was in the schools – 106 – Ms. Carney: and then the problems rose elsewhere and of course we were criticized. Skelly felt that he wanted the best education he could for his son and he had made a decision to get it for him. He wasn’t going to take him out and give him less because the public was in an uproar about something. It must have been an odd experience to come from New Orleans to the District of Columbia thinking those years were behind you and you would have a different role, and all of a sudden to find yourself back. Mrs. Wright: You are so right. I couldn’t believe it. Ms. Carney: Did you feel that Judge Wright fell into the mode of a district court judge again comfortably, or had he moved on and was this a very difficult assignment for him? Mrs. Wright: I think he had been district court judging for so long he didn’t have any problem with it. Ms. Carney: The next case that came to my attention was the Jehovah’s Witness case, which was also a demanding one for Judge Wright. This time back in his regular capacity of a Court of Appeals judge. Could you describe that case? Mrs. Wright: Yes. There was a couple, they were Jehovah’s Witnesses. They had a two- or three-month-old baby, practically a newborn. The wife was ill and needed a blood transfusion. She was in Georgetown Hospital. The doctors at Georgetown Hospital said that unless she got a blood transfusion she would die. Her husband and she said that she could not have a blood transfusion. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that you “cannot drink blood.“ No matter how they tried to persuade these two people that transfusion – 107 – was not drinking blood, it went in the veins, it did not matter to them. They still said no transfusion. Edward Bennett Williams was representing the hospital and he wanted to get a court order to force her to have a transfusion. He went over to the courthouse, I guess you call it a motion. Skelly was the only judge available at the time to consult and Ed Williams went to see him and he decided he certainly couldn’t decide this from his chambers. He and Ed went over to the hospital and Skelly talked to this woman who was really near death and he asked her if she knew where she was and what this issue was all about and that if she did not have this transfusion she would die and she would be leaving her new baby. She looked at him, and said, yes she knew where she was. Yes, she did understand, however, it was “against my will,” was her expression and Skelly felt that what she was saying was almost like a cry for help. What she was saying was, do it, but it is against my will that you do. Somebody help me, somebody save me. But, I still don’t approve. In any case, as he said later, he decided on “the side of life.” He really felt that this woman definitely did want to live and if they did it “against her will,” that made it all right. So they gave her the transfusion. Obviously, any appeal on it was moot because she recovered. Ms. Carney: Did he ever hear from her thereafter? Mrs. Wright: No. Ms. Carney: Do you recall what he commented about that case afterwards, was that a difficult one for him? Mrs. Wright: Oh, yes. He came home and he did say that he had never experienced anything quite so traumatic. He was absolutely drained dry. Exhausted, emotionally. – 108 – Ms. Carney: Had he had prior dealings with Edward Bennett Wi 11 i ams ? Mrs. Wright: We were friends. I remember the first time I met him, I think Skelly was still in New Orleans and we went to a trial judges’ conference in Puerto Rico and Ed Williams was the main speaker. He was young, everybody was young then. He was a spell-binder, but I remember too, he was coming down with the flu or something. He had a terrible sore throat. But, was a spell-binder in spite of his voice that was rasping, hoarse. He was dear to both of us at that time. When we came up here we would entertain in each other’s homes. His wife was dear. Ms. Carney: Tell me about Judge Wright’s working habits at the Court of Appeals when he was here: how did he get to the Court, what time would he come home, when would he come home? Mrs. Wright: He drove down every morning. He would leave just about 9:00, it depended on what — if he had something earlier, but generally he would leave about 9:OO. He would drive to the courthouse and he made a habit of walking up five flights of stairs. He felt this was his exercise. He didn’t do golf anymore. He used to play golf when we lived in New Orleans, but he didn’ t play golf up here, occasionally, but that was his exercise, running up five flights of stairs. He was very expeditious in his working habits. He never had an extra piece of paper on his desk. I admired him so because I’m a clutter-bug. But he had no clutter any place. He decided things quickly and once and for all. He didn’t seem to agonize. He left on time and he seldom brought work home with him, sometimes but not often. He put out the work and got on with the next thing. Ms. Carney: Did he work on weekends, ever? – 109 – Mrs. Wright: He’d bring home briefs and things to read, but, you hear these stories about how these judges work into the wee hours of the night. He didn’t. I think he was a quick study. He did work. When he was in Louisiana he and Herbert were the only two district court judges and they had a reputation for terminating more cases per judge than any district court in the country. Ms. Carney: So, they moved their dockets right along, then? This is Herbert — ? Mrs. Wright: Christenberry. Skelly did work quickly and he did work well. Ms. Carney: I recall reading that he occasionally would go to the Federal Communications Commission cafeteria with his clerks for lunch. Did he do that on a regular basis? Mrs. Wright: Pretty much, yes. There was a judges’ dining room but he didn’t go there. He much preferred the cafeteria. First of all, he was a gracious loner. He was a very gracious man. But he didn’t really seek people out. The martini lunch would have never occurred to him at the time. Lunch was to go get some food and get back to work. So he would go into the cafe- teria and also, I think it was economical. Skelly was noted for his economies. Ms. Carney: I gather that he occasionally went to a luncheon gathering of judges, primarily, that would happen at Milton Kronheirn’s. Is that right? Mrs. Wright: Yes. Ms. Carney: Where was that, exactly? Do you know? Mrs. Wright: I don’t know, its up on Capitol Hill, I think. I am not sure where it was. But it was sort of – 110 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: a favorite place for some of them to go. Again, Dave Bazelon was sort of the organizer for that — he and Milton Kronheim were very good friends. Milton had these elegant lunches over there. The food was very good. They weren’t long lingering things, but they were sociable things, as you say, judges go. And there were Supreme Court Justices, also? Bill Brennan used to go and Blackmun — I think Harry Blackmun. I shouldn’t say this because I am not really sure. Did Thurgood Marshall go? Yes, he did. And do you know what they talked about? No. The Kronheim lunches took place from time to time over a period of years? Yes. And then Skelly got sort of dis-invited. His time for going came to an end. Would you like to talk about it? Well, I think, there’s no question that it was David Bazelon who organized these things and saw to it which ones were invited. He really was the — he wasn’t the host but he ran the guest list. When he and Skelly would have a falling-out, Skelly was dis-invited. Skelly and David had some fallings-out. That happened periodically? Yes. There were misunderstandings between David and Skelly, generally speaking, of some – 111 – moment. They weren’t minor things; they were often rather deep-seated. Ms. Carney: So, you said there were occasionally fallingsout between Judge Bazelon and Judge Wright that would occur over different events. Although many people saw them from a distance as having very similar views on the law, being quite allied with each other. Mrs. Wright: I think, perhaps, that is, to a great extent, quite true. They did see things eye-to-eye in the law and they did have similar views. But, that didn’t mean that they thought totally alike. And, there was one instance when — talking about their fallings-out, when David got very angry with Skelly because Skelly wouldn‘t sign on an opinion. David felt one way: Skelly felt another, and Skelly was sticking by his guns and doing what he thought was right. David wasn’t going to persuade him, so David didn’t speak to him for a considerable length of time. Which, of course, was slightly un-judicial, it seems to me. Ms. Carney: Do you recall what that opinion was about? Mrs. Wright: No. I really don‘t know. Ms. Carney: But that estrangement lasted for some months? Mrs. Wright: Oh, yes, some months, oh indeed. And then there was another occasion when Skelly had selected a law clerk and he said he was coming to Skelly and David wanted him. So he persuaded the law clerk to go to him, David, with a promise that he would see that he got on the Supreme Court. And Skelly was, to put it mildly, put out by that. He felt that it was improper and kind of a bribe and undermined a clerkship that he had counted on. So, at that time Skelly froze David out. They had these moments of tension and disinterest, distrust, – 112 – dislike. They were not in total sync. You pointed out that people think of them as kind of marching in the same step and in some way, they did. But, to suggest that they were peas in a pod was totally erroneous. Ms. Carney: Did they ever work closely together? Mrs. Wright: Yes, on some issues, and they did see eye-toeye on a lot of cases, a lot of issues. I remember when we first came up here they really were quite close. David welcomed Skelly with open arms. David was chief judge. He sought him out, wined and dined us and all of those nice things. Ms. Carney: But over a period of time there were tensions that developed between the two of them. Mrs. Wright: Right. Ms. Carney: Did they often sit on panels together? Mrs. Wright: Sure. That was the luck-of-the-draw, of course. Ms. Carney: What other judges on the court did you and Skelly, or did Skelly become friendly with at the courthouse? Mrs. Wright: Well, Carl McGowan came up the year after Skelly did. And he and Skelly were reasonably close. Jodie and I were friends. Ms. Carney: Were they neighbors of yours, did they live in — Mrs. Wright: They lived in Spring Valley, not too far away. Often Skelly would bring Carl home and Carl used to laugh about the hair-raising rides he’d had with Skelly. I used to think, if you don’t want to ride with him don’t bum a ride with him. – 113 – Ms. Carney: What style did Skelly have as a driver? Was he talking or was he watching the road or – Mrs. Wright: He was a very good driver, no question about that. I learned a lot about evasive actions and other important things about driving. He would take chances, that kind of got my hair standing on end on occasions. But he really was a very good driver, but he was — he took chances. It caused concerns, sometimes. Ms. Carney: So, Judge McGowan was not likely to doze off on the way home. Were there any other judges that he spent time with at the court? Mrs. Wright: Well, early on, of course, there were the Fahys and Edgertons and the Prettymans. But they weren’t around all that long. The Tams – Ed Tamm was a nice man — and the MacKinnons. They weren’ t “bosom buddies .” They were all friendly, and as I say, I guess, Carl and Jodie, the Burgers, were, of course, most gracious. Warren, I remember, when they lived out in Virginia, would come every Christmas with his arms laden with holly and fir and pine cones and things for everybody on the court. I remember when we were shortly up here and Warren and Vera invited us to a wine tasting at the French Embassy. That was a very elegant party. I felt I’d really arrived by then. It was fun. Ms. Carney: And then, still on the Supreme Court, then, there were the Blacks who — ? Mrs. Wright: The Blacks and the Brennans. Elizabeth and I had known each other even in Louisiana days and we came up here. We saw a lot of them, of course. Skelly and Justice Black — we went on several trips to the west where they both served on judicial committees — they weren’t really committees, they were like panels or meetings. A lot of the fun things we did, – 114 – really, were some of the committee meetings, the judicial committee, where we would meet with Judge Biggs and Judge Maris. We would go to fun places like Estes Park and Aspen. Again, this was kind of like the postman taking a hike on his vacation. This was the case of doing committee — judicial committee — work on a vacation. Skelly and I would go to the meetings and then have a little time — Ms. Carney: So the committees were largely oriented towards court administration? Mrs. Wright: Yes, those were the days of the Warren Court and Skelly was put on certain judicial committees. The judges on those committees would meet in different parts of the country. It was fun because we got to meet judges from all over the country. The Lindbergs, Swygerts, the Marises. The trip that we took with the Blacks was not a committee; that was just a trip where he and Skelly were on different programs. We did do all kinds of things together– I’ve got a wastebasket over there that’s got pictures of the Wrights and Blacks in Salt Lake City and Sun Valley, and all those fun places. Then, when we were here, we did entertain in and out of each other’s homes a lot. Ms. Carney: Was the dinner table full of conversation about politics and the courts? Mrs. Wright: Yes. Always stimulating and they always had stimulating people invited, as well. If they had big dinner parties with Lizie Mae and Spencer as helpers in their lovely Alexandria home. They had a home which took up about a half a block and they had peach trees, and fig trees and a grape arbor and a tennis court. Those were lovely times. Ms. Carney: Did Skelly enjoy those kinds of gatherings? – 115 – Mrs. Wright: Yes. Very much. And we always shared birth- days. Elizabeth and I — she had a birthday the 29th of January. Mine was the middle of January. So, we always had a party in January to celebrate our respective birthdays. Ms. Carney: This is Elizabeth Black? Mrs. Wright: Yes. And she and I had a great, big square box that was covered and it looked sort of like material, gold and green overlay, perfectly beautiful. One year I would put her present in that box and the next year I’d get the box back with her present to me. Funny little things like that. I am not sure the Historical Society is interested in all of that. Ms. Carney: As time passed, were there other cases that you recall particularly challenging to Judge Wright? The Walker case perhaps? Mrs. Wright: Yes. Ms. Carney: And he had some FCC cases, as well, some major administrative law cases? Mrs. Wright: I am sure he did. Ms. Carney: You said also that you spent a certain amount of time with the Brennans, in particular, Marjorie Brennan during those years. Would you like to talk about that? Mrs. Wright: Yes. She and I became very close friends. We would have lunch every week. We would have our bullshots, that’s vodka with beef bouillon or sometimes we would do clamato juice. But we had libations with our lunch and invariably it was in her home or mine. She had a home on Dumbarton Avenue. And I must say, going to her house was a challenge parking in Georgetown. But, other than that it was fun. She had two cute dogs. Nutmeg was a little Corgi and Scamp – 116 – was a little black poodle. So, Marjorie, Scamp, Nutmeg and I would have lunch and then the next week, she’d come out here. We never ran out of anything to talk about. Always had a good time. She was a nice lady. Totally unpretentious, totally unassuming. Wonderful, delightful sense of humor. A little elfin, so to speak. Then, she developed cancer of the throat. I never will forget, she’d say, my throat is sore and the doctor says that it is serious. I’d say oh Marjorie did you ever have your tonsils out. Oh, yes’ I’ve had my tonsils out. I said, then maybe they’ve grown back. Anyway, no amount of guessing would make the situation go away. I remember we went to an elegant restaurant on 17th Street, Sans Souci, just up from the White House, where the powerful people went and had their own telephones — And this was going to be her splurge luncheon before the surgery. And sure enough, when she had the surgery’ it was extensive surgery of her neck and her throat. Thereafter, it was for a long time she had to be fed through a tube in her neck and she was such a courageous, good sport. She would come out here and she’d have a scarf around her neck where she had this tube with a plug in it. She’d wrap this scarf around it to disguise it. Then, we would have our old bullshots and she’d pour it down this tube. She’d laugh and say, it feels so good when it hits my tummy. It was the kind of person she was, she just made the best of everything. And then I remember one day she had called me up. She said, “Guess what Lovey, I ate some bacon this morning.” She’d got where she’d eat food mixed up in the blender. She couldn’t eat solids with her throat badly burned from all the radiation which she had after the surgery. The radiation burned the inside of her throat to where the tissues were tender and subject to being cut or torn. So, she had to put food in the blender — she’d come here to dinner parties. We would have – 117 – roast beef and then a vegetable and I always cooked her a potato. We would put water from the potato in the blender and the potato in the blender and the slices of roast beef, a little bit of beef juice, and then her vegetable, whatever it was. And pour it all up and serve it in a soup bowl, and then invariably a little bit of horseradish on the top or a little bit of jelly, depending upon what the dish was. She would sit up and eat with the other guests. But, she could only go where people knew what she could eat. Before that she did try heroically to eat. She, as I say, called up to say that she was so excited, she‘d eaten a piece of bacon. That was the end because the next time she tried to eat a piece of bacon she had a hemorrhage. So, she just realized that she could never eat solid foods. It lasted about ten years. Ms. Carney: Ten years of doing this? Mrs. Wright: Yes, just about. She had her surgery in 1969, and she died December 1, 1982. So she had over ten years of this. But she was such a good sport. Ms. Carney: And you maintained that schedule of having lunch weekly through all that time? Mrs. Wright: Yes. Ms. Carney: That was a lovely story. Mrs. Wright: It really was. They used to go up to Nantucket in the summer. She got Lyme disease and Connie, her granddaughter, was there and she got the Lyme disease. Marjorie came back, I remember, we were having lunch one day, and she said “Look.” She’d pull her sleeves up and she had all these little lumps all over. She said, “I am not sure what that is but I’m concerned.” They put her in the hospital and found the – 118 – cancer had spread. I remember I got some sort of a bug and they wouldn’t let me go see her. She was in The Lombardi Clinic in Georgetown. But I would call her every morning. And, this particular morning, I called and she said, “Oh, Lovey, I’m glad you called, because, I just want to tell you good-bye and how much I love you.” And, I said, “Oh sweetie, 1’11 talk to you tomorrow.” She said, “Just don’t forget.” I called the next day, and Bill was there and he said, “Helen, she’s dying.” It was kind of prophetic, but she was courageous right to the end. She was a super friend. Ms. Carney: What a nice close friendship you had during that time. Mrs. Wright: Yes. NOW, of course, Bill has remarried and Mary has been a very good wife to him and given him ten more years. Of course, he was limited with Marjorie’s illness. They couldn’t do a lot of the exciting things Supreme Court justices and their wives do that make life stimulating. Bill was very accommodating. He was devoted to Marjorie and now to Mary. He would not accept invitations where she couldn’t go. So, he missed out on a lot. But, in my view, he may have minded it, but not to outward appearances, he didn’t mind, he was happy to do it. Ms. Carney: So, the four of you would be able to spend time together. Mrs. Wright: Yes. We went up to Manchester, Massachusetts, with mutual friends and we would stay long weekends. We did a lot together. Ms. Carney: I’ve met Justice Brennan and he’s a lovely man. I am sorry I didn’t know Marjorie. Mrs. Wright: She was just great. And Bill and Skelly, they were very, very, close. They thought alike and – 119 – MS. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Ms. Carney: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: they’d sit down and could talk forever, no disagreements there. Did they do that often? Yes. I mean, not just the two of them only. We would see them as a foursome — often. That’s friendship to be treasured. Yes, indeed. Unique. We’ll close for the day and take up again sometime in the future. Good afternoon. This is Susan Carney and it is Sunday afternoon, April 28, 1996. I am with Helen Wright and we are going to spend a couple more hours talking about her life and times and those of her late husband, Skelly Wright. I did a little research since I saw you last, Mrs. Wright. I got on the computer and learned that there were 623 opinions that Skelly wrote, either concurrence or dissent or the opinion by, in the twenty-five years, I guess, he was on the D.C. Circuit. The first one was in 1962, and the last was in 1987. Does that sound like I got the span? Yes. It struck me as a large number. There were 404 majority opinions and 136 dissents that I registered. So, he was a busy man during his time in court. Yes. And he obviously liked to write and he wrote well. – 120 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Was he attentive to trying to respond quickly in cases? Very much so. When he was in Louisiana the U.S. District Court with two judges concluded more cases per judge than any other district in the country. Oh, really. They were very productive. A lot of that was because Skelly was quick and prolific. Did he pay special attention to calendaring? And he didn’t like to let things linger? Right. Definitely. Do you recall whether he felt free to write dissents, or whether he would pause long and hard before he decided to write a separate opinion or write a dissent? Well, I would have to have been a mind reader I don’ t know. A couple of the opinions that I came across, I thought he might have mentioned something, since they were in the news, not to take them in chronological order, but, the Pentagon Papers case, in particular, which he wrote a very impassioned dissent from the panel’s decision to restrain the Washington Post from publishing them. Did you discuss this case with him at all? Yes. A bit. I would have to say that it seemed to me that Skelly’s dissent did become the Supreme Court opinion. I guess you don’t talk about credit, but sometimes you can’t help it. I often felt that they talked about the Supreme Court decision without giving Skelly – 121 – due credit because their opinion was from Skelly’ s. Ms. Carney: He wrote in very strong language what he felt. He did not mince any words. Mrs. Wright: Very definitely. And he felt that case very strongly. Ms. Carney: Those were difficult times, of course, with the war going on. I noted that the other judges on the panel had initially been willing to credit the government‘s unsupported allegations. There were going to be dire consequences if the papers were permitted to be published. Skelly seemed to start with a slightly more skeptical view about what might happen when the government did not produce much supporting evidence. The First Amendment, in his mind, seemed to take precedence. Mrs. Wright: Far outweighed any possible problems with “secrets.“ Government secrets so seldom are real secrets anyway. Ms. Carney: A similar case was — a case I know less about — the Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press and the AT&T Company. AT&T had been willing to hand over the telephone records of certain reporters to the government on only a minimal showing that they were needed. I don’t know if you recall anything about this one. Mrs. Wright: No. Ms. Carney: Well, there are so many of them, you know, it’s difficult to choose. Another one I mentioned to you earlier was about sleeping in Lafayette Park and how Skelly wrote that he thought that this was expressive behavior. He and Chief Judge Robinson together concurred in the judgment that people ought to be allowed to sleep in Lafayette Park. Since this was such a local – 122 – matter as well as a national matter, I wondered whether he had mentioned anything to you about it — whether you recall people camping out in Lafayette Park? Mrs. Wright: I know the case, but I certainly can’t quote him. Ms. Carney: This was in 1983? Mrs. Wright: Right. Ms. Carney: One thing struck my eye, also, in looking at this case, Community for Creative Non-Violence v. Watt, IO3 F.2d 586. On the rehearing en banc there is a long paragraph — I’ll read a little bit just to give you the flavor. ”Circuit Judge Mikva files an opinion, in which Circuit Judge Wald concurs in support of a judgment reversing the opinion of the district court. Chief Judge Robinson and Circuit Judge Wright file a statement joining in the judgment and concurring in the opinion, with a caveat. Circuit Judge Edwards files an opinion joining in the judgment, and concurring partially with Circuit Judge Mikva‘s opinion. Circuit Judge Ginsburg files an opinion in which Circuit Judges Tam, MacKinnon, and Bork concur.” Then Circuit Judge Scalia filed a dissenting opinion in which others concur. It is such a web, a tangled web of different — Mrs. Wright: That’s a wonderful expression. Ms. Carney: – of different opinions and I wonder if you could tell me at all what Judge Wright’s reactions were, as this happened with greater and greater frequency in the time in which his years on the bench spanned? Mrs. Wright: Well, I think, perhaps, it does typify the beginning of the real change on that circuit. I was not aware of all of those concurrences – 123 – and separate filings, and what-not. But, as you read off those names it certainly did confirm Skelly’s concerns about the changing court and it was certainly not to his liking. It was the same, of course, with the Supreme Court, the Warren Court. Those were happy days when the “liberals” had their day and had their say. In his mind, of course, justice did reign. As the more conservative judges came on, that justice seemed to slip away. It certainly was true on the Circuit Court. At the time of the Resolution of Appreciation at the end of Skelly’s tenure on the court, at the Judicial Conference (by then, he was affected by Alzheimer’s but not to the extent that he was not able to express himself), he was good and he was bad; but he was a little bitter in his response to the accolades that were made to him. He talked about how this change had taken place and how it was not for the better and how tragic it was, almost. You could tell that he was very, very upset. Ms. Carney: He was pained by it? Mrs. Wright: He was pained by it, a much better word. Ms. Carney: Were there particular turning points that he pointed to? Mrs. Wright: I am so reluctant to name names. But, there were signs of rejection of him, I guess, maybe in his 30, well, he was almost 40 years on the bench. He had gotten a little bit spoiled, perhaps, by appreciation and accolades and when, towards the end, it was such a reverse that it was hurtful, it was painful, and, as I say, I don’t want to — Ms. Carney: I suppose after so many years of praise and approval and appreciation, it must have been particularly a sharp contrast to all of a sudden feel less appreciated. – 124 – Mrs. Wright: Part of it, too, was, he felt so strongly, you see, that these people were wrong, and it wasn’t so much a personal attack on him, so much as an attack on the things he believed in so fervently and passionately, and cared about so deeply. He just felt, where is this world going? Where is the Justice System turning? Ms. Carney: Did he feel that some of the values that he held dearest were endangered, then? Mrs. Wright: Very much so. Ms. Carney: So, that, more than a personal attack? Mrs. Wright: I am afraid he was proved right. Ms. Carney: I noted, also, as I went through and just chose some volumes from the Federal Reporter, that the size of the circuit had increased over time since Skelly started sitting. Did that change the dynamics at all of the Court in your mind or in his mind, do you know? There were nine judges in 1962. There were Wilbur Miller, Henry Edgerton, David Bazelon, Charles Fahy, George Washington, John Danaher, Walter Bastian, Warren Burger, and Skelly, in ’62. Mrs. Wright: That’s an interesting line-up, if you will. As you read them off, you realize that to a great extent, they are good liberal judges. There were, however, the three, Bastian, Danaher and Miller, who were “of the old school,” so to speak, and conservative and didn’t like these young Turks coming in and upsetting the system as it had been. I couldn’t help but note in my thought processes in some writing that I’ve done that at the end of Skelly’s tenure it was so tragic to see that the whole situation had come full circle and now Skelly and the remaining liberals were so in the minority that they would have to have appreciated what those earlier ones had gone through. – 125 – Ms. Carney: Was the relationship, generically speaking, between the judges of different view points, different nature, was it — Mrs. Wright: It was always extremely civil and extremely kind. While they disagreed philosophically and judicially, as far away as you can get, they still were cordial and considerate. Sort of reminds you a little bit of the hypocrisy of some of the things you read about in Congress. “My cherished friend from –” Ms. Carney: Esteemed brother, distinguished senator. Mrs. Wright: Yes. But there was, of course, cordiality. When we first came up here it was sort of customary for judges to entertain the entire court. I remember having a dinner party here at my.home. I was terrified. But, anyway, all nine of them were here with their wives and it couldn’t have been happier. I mean it was cordial and everybody had a good time and, as I say, despite their philosophical differences, they were delightfully civilized and nice people. Ms. Carney: Let’s move on, then, and talk about the early and mid-80s. Judge Wright retired in 1987, is that right? And how did he reach that decision, that it was the time to do that? Mrs. Wright: As is typical in Alzheimer’s, you never know. People used to say to me, how long has he had it, when did he get it? It’s an insidious kind of a thing and there is no way in which you can pin-point that, the beginning of it. It’s just that, after all, he was I1 when he died. Alzheimer’s probably struck him at about the age of 12, that’s just a guess. But, he would do small things like lose keys, and lose his way. I remember distinctly he was taking my sister to National Airport. She was going back home to Florida, having visited with us, and he got – 126 – lost. She missed the plane. It was just a nightmare. It was like two hours or more they tried to get her on another flight. Never bothered to call me to tell me what had happened, and I was frantic. Anyway, he lost his way. Then he was going to a swearing-in at the State Department. Abe Sofaer had been a law clerk of Skelly’s and a judge in New York. He‘d come down here as Counsel to the State Department. The State Department was off Constitution Avenue, at about 25th Street, and of course‘ the courthouse was Constitution and about 7th. He asked in the morning, “Where is this I go?” I said, “Oh, honey, you just go to Constitution Avenue and you turn right, I think it’s 25th, but you will see the building on your right and you just turn right and go straight on up to it.” Well, he apparently never got there and our son called me and said, “Where was Skelly, he didn’t go to Abe’s swearing-in.” I said, “Jim, he told me he was headed there, he called me from the court- house.” He said, “Well, he never made it.” Well, obviously, I was panicked again. He had gotten on Theodore Roosevelt’s bridge and had wandered around Virginia and was totally lost. It was probably about four hours. Ms. Carney: This would have been around what year? Mrs. Wright: I don‘t know. I would have to look it up. It would have been — let’s see, he died in ‘88. It probably was about ’82 maybe, roughly ’82, ’83. Ms. Carney: So, these were the first signs that really gave you pause and great, great, concern? Mrs. Wright: Real concerns. Ms. Carney: What did you do? – 127 – Mr ‘s. Wright: He went to the hospital for a kidney stone and stayed overnight. I went to get him the next morning. As I went into the lobby at Sibley he was standing there waiting for me. I said, “Oh, come on Skelly, you ready to go?” And he said, “Yes, have you paid your bill?” I said, “What do you mean, paid my bill?” He said, “Well, you stayed here last night, didn’t you?” Of course, my heart sank, I was terrified. I said, “No, no, I didn’t stay here.” So, the doctor, again I get the chronology a little mixed up, but on one of the occasions when he was there he got quite delirious and the doctor checked him out and said, “NO, no he didn’t have Alzheimer’s, it was just the case of being in an unfamiliar surrounding at night.” I guess that must have been when he had prostate surgery and he had been there several nights and I had to get a sitter because he was disoriented and would call at all hours. In any case, that particular time the neurologist did come in and gave him a test for possible Alzheimer’s. He said, no he didn’t have Alzheimer’s. It was just confusion of being in an unfamiliar surrounding. So, these things happened along the way that gave me concern and pause and then reassurance. And, I guess, after that, he began to get even more forgetful and he got very unable to know his way around. So, finally, one of the real crises always is taking the driving privileges away. I managed to do that. That wasn’t easy either. Then, we were going up to Vermont where he was to receive an honorary degree. I decided it was time for a second opinion. We stopped off in Boston and he went to a very fine, famous neurologist, at Brigham & Women’s. He said, yes, he did have Alzheimer’s — I take it back, he’d even had an appraisal here, but by the same doctor who had told him at Sibley he didn’t have Alzheimer’s, he had a second meeting, so to speak, with an MRI and a higher degree of scans and then that doctor told me – 128 – that yes, he thought he did have Alzheimer’s. But it was the same man who not very long before that who said no, he didn’t. So I wasn‘t totally secure in that opinion, either. So I decided a second opinion was important. When we got to Boston, that doctor did say that yes, they say you cannot diagnose Alzheimer‘s as a certainty until an autopsy and see what they call tangles and plaques. But, there is what they call a suspicion of Alzheimer’s and it certainly was dementia, that there was no doubt whether it was significantly Alzheimer’s. They couldn‘t be totally positive, but they felt at that stage that perhaps it was. So, I remember, he turned to me and he said, I don‘t want you to tell a living soul. I thought, well, how do you deal with this as a big secret. It can’t be a secret for long. I think it was getting obvious at the courthouse. He was doing things that he wouldn’t previously remember his very last decision was apparently an effort on his part to please. It was not a decision that he would have written years before. That was kind of tough. have done. Expressed opinions that — I Ms. Carney: That was very uncharacteristic of him. Mrs. Wright: So, he finally decided upon the worst thing in the world — it was to give up his work. That was his life, really his total life, and, quite frankly, too, he certainly didn‘t want to give his appointment to a Republican. He was a staunch Democrat and he’d seen what the Republicans had done to the court system in their appointments they made. The last thing he wanted to do was give them another seat on that circuit which he loved. But, he realized that he had to. Ms. Carney: How did he announce that decision? – 129 – Mrs. Wright: Wrote a letter to Mr. Reagan and it just went through the court system. Ms. Carney: So, that would have been in 1987? Mrs. Wright: Right. Ms. Carney: In the summertime? Mrs. Wright: I think it was July. I‘ve got a copy of the letter. Yes, I think it was July because I remember thinking at one point, it was just about a year before he died. He died in August . Ms. Carney: And were there any events organized around his retirement from the court after 25 years? Mrs. Wright: They had some, of course, at the Circuit Conference. I think it was Williamsburg. They varied between Williamsburg and Greenbriar, the Homestead. I think maybe this was at the Homestead. I don’t know. I think it’s because I want to forget. But, they had, of course, a resolution and they read the resolution and I had told him that I didn‘t think he ought to try and respond because he really was pretty bad off by then. When I’ve seen other Alzheimer’s patients, that disease manifests itself in so many ways. Some people can’t even talk at all. But, Skelly could talk but he was pretty incoherent and certainly mixed up. He had these kind of 3×5 cards and one of them contained a quote of Justice Black‘s “in Chambers.” It was Skelly’s most favorite quotation of all and he was determined to use that in his response to the praise, accolades, whatever. But, I was afraid, first of all, that he wouldn’t get it straight and I wasn‘t sure what he was going to use it for. In other words, how he was going to weave it into his, I was sure, statement of disappointment in the court itself. So, I kept the cards from him, but, – 130 – never let it be said he was anything but courageous. So, without any notes or anything, he stood up in front of these hundreds of people and took off. I just sat there and died a bit. It was very sad because his disappointment and pain at the turn of events on this court, which he loved, was so evident and he was beginning to tell it like it was. And, it served no purpose and it didn’t make him look good — his exit was not so grand as it could have been if he’d said, “Thank you.” Ms. Carney: By that day he was no longer in control? Mrs. Wright: Of course not. And Pat Wald was Chief Judge and she was wonderful. She just went up and took him by the arm and said, “Thank you, Judge, so much,” and got him to come sit down. But, it was too bad. There was another occasion when they dedicated his portrait and that was quite different; of course, it was earlier, too. And, everybody was praising him, saying, what a great man he was, and so on. But, he was a lot more with it then. He had written out a speech which he was going to give primarily to thank his law clerks who had made the portrait possible. They had come from all over the country to attend this. We were going to have a luncheon the next day out at our home, I should say. He was all right but he knew himself that he wasn’t totally competent anymore. And, so instead of going on with what he was trying to do he said something about he had a speech all prepared but, in as much as these people had said such kind, wonderful things about him, he was less articulate, he thought, maybe he’d better quit while he was ahead. So, everybody burst out laughing, and thunderous applause. He rescued himself from that. Then, the last one was, again in chronology, this was when he got his honorary degree in Vermont. He had written out a speech as the commencement speaker and it was too long by about a third. – 131 – So, when he and I were going up to Boston, it was all done in large type and I knew it had to be cut. So, as we went along I had a marking pen and I would x-out great portions. Not without difficulty. He was determined to do the whole nine yards. We finally got it down to a manageable bit, but the problem was, as he would turn the pages there would be an x’d-out paragraph and you had to be kind of quick to turn it over and pick up. It got too much for him as he was going to make the speech. He got quite a ways through it but nowhere near the end. And he came to a point, which was totally appropriate as a conclusion, but way shorter than where he was going to conclude and he just said something about, I think, “I hope I have inspired you,” words to that effect, “to go out and be the good lawyers that I know you’re capable of being and I wish you well,” words to this effect. But, he knew he couldn’t go on but he still had the presence of mind to end it so right, so well, so beautifully. Ms. Carney: Gracefully, and on such a positive note. Mrs. Wright: Of course, I sat there and marveled as I shook in my shoes. Ms. Carney: He really rallied them? Mrs. Wright: Yes. I would say, he came through on every occasion, courage always came to his rescue. Ms. Carney: After he retired I know his condition worsened, but were there any times when he was feeling like himself? What did he like to do? Mrs. Wright: He retired and he would go down to the courthouse to wind up any left-over cases. He went for nine months. Not that long, again, I got my chronology wrong. This was awhile ago. He used to go down and I had this former taxi driver, who would pick him up and take him to – 132 – the courthouse and then pick him up and bring him home. That was great. When he no longer could go to the courthouse, he went to a day care center which was one of the most difficult things for him. In a way it was humiliating. The people there were in such varied stages of dementia or incapacity of one kind or another. He was alert enough to realize he was mingling with people who reminded him of, perhaps, how much worse he was going to get. And, yet, when I would take him in the morning, he would tell me in the car he wasn’t going to go and just turn around and take him home. I would tell him he had to and I’d be back to get him. I’d let him out and he’d go in and he was an absolute favorite of all the staff. They were crazy about him because he was cooperative once he got there. And I would go pick him up and I would see him in the setting where they were singing songs or things that hardly were like judging and he would see me come and his face would light up. He was so thrilled to be going home. We did it three days a week. In the meantime he went into the NIH research program. I remember he said to me, I said something about we were going to go out to NIH and this research program. He said, “Listen, I’ll do anything, anything if it would help in anyway people down the line who might have this terrible problem.” There were moments of lucidity. He knew, but he never talked about what was going to become of him, how it felt, and that’s the kind of thing you let the patient bring up if they wish to and if they don’t — they set the stage and the pace. Ms. Carney: So, it’s your job to respond? Mrs. Wright: That’s right. What’s to be gained? If he wants to talk, that’s very important, if he doesn’ t want to talk, that’s also important. – 133 – Ms. Carney: What did you do to keep yourself going during this time? Mrs. Wright: I was very busy. Oddly enough, I was president of Hospice Care of D.C., kind of ironic. Then I had my church work. I led my life. While he was home there was no way I was ever going to put him in a nursing home. It wasn’t easy. But he never got obstreperous. A lot of Alzheimer‘s patients get difficult. Skelly was never difficult, he was argumentative and he was stubborn. He would say he wasn’t going to do certain things. He would insist that there were people in the house. There was a sort of paranoia that took over in instances and I would have to persuade him that there was nobody here. He would wake me up at 2:00 in the morning and say, “Sugar, it’s time to go to the courthouse, now, you’re going to take me?“ I would say, “What time is it?” He couldn’t read a wrist watch, so to speak, but I bought a digital clock, and he would say two, colon, three, four. I would say, “Honey, that’s 2:30 in the morning, you don‘t go to the courthouse at 2:30 in the morning, now let’s get back to bed.“ So, I‘d take off his overcoat and his hat and put his briefcase down and try to encourage him to go back to bed. He would, for a short time, then he would pop up again and say, “Sugar, it’s time to go.” And, finally, in desperation, I would go fix breakfast. You learn the most important way of dealing — each case is different. But for me, the most important way of dealing with it was to change the subject and the forgetfulness precludes a continuation or a determination. So, 1 would give him breakfast and by then he would have forgotten about going to the courthouse. One time he insisted on going down to the courthouse. This was in the day. I said, “Okay, sugar, let’s go.“ So, I got him out. I put him in the car and I drove out Massachusetts Avenue, Little Falls, the fire station and down and out – 134 – Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright: the back way, MacArthur Boulevard and brought him on back home. By the time we got back home it was fifteen minutes later, he‘d completely forgotten about going to the courthouse. But, to try to argue with him and say, “NO, you don’t go to the courthouse anymore, no, hon, we don’t go there today,” or whatever, to buck him was to give me a hard time. So, you changed the subject or you pretend, or you adjust. I’d put him in the car and he thought he was going to the courthouse. So, the courthouse seemed to have been a big theme for him after he fell ill. Yes. One time I remember him saying, “But you don‘t understand, Sugar, I’ve got to earn a living.” I’d say, “Yes, I know.’’ He died, then, in 1988? Eighty-eight What month? August. He had had prostate cancer and I didn’t know that it was cancer. I knew he had had a prostate operation. He must have known himself that his future was not the best. He didn‘t want me to know he had cancer. He kept that from you? He kept that from me. He was in terrible pain. In the end he had a terrible time explaining anything. He would say he had a pain in his back. He had a bad back as a younger person: in fact, he had a corset that he‘d wear when his back kicked up. So, I said, “Let‘s get your corset and see if we can –‘I it never occurred to me what this was. Finally, there was blood in the urine, so, I panicked. I had a feeling what that might be. I took him to – 135 – the urologist and they ran a test and said, yes, the cancer had spread. I said, “What do you mean, the cancer?” Well, he had cancer. I said, “Why didn’t anybody tell me?” Well, they said, “We weren’ t to tell you.” They, again, didn’t realize that he didn’t have all his marbles. So, it was a great disservice as far as I could look back on. Anyway, they put him on hormones and probably said there was no further real treatment. I remember we went out, it was a 4th of July party with friends, very close friends, obviously, because we didn’t go out, otherwise, and that I call our last social engagement. We went to this friend’s apartment on New Mexico Avenue where you could look out and see the fireworks. As I said, they were good close friends. So, only about eight of us. When we came home that night he went to bed and he fell out of bed and I must have spent two hours trying to get him up off the floor and back onto the bed. He was complaining of pain, terrible pain. I had had, several nights before, real problems handling him and I realized with this particular problem that there was no way I could care for him here by myself. I called the doctor and asked him to let me admit him to Sibley. They said, “Well unless there is a real reason, we can’t take him just because he’s got a pain in hi.s back.” I said, “Whatever, you’ve got to look at him. He’s in much too much pain for me to cope with. I cannot deal with him here at the house.” They said, “Well, you probably have to pay for it.” I said, “That’s all right, I don’t care who pays for it.” I said, ” I’ll pay for it. He needs help and so do I.” So, they admitted him. He was there and they ran tests again and realized that indeed, the cancer had gone into his bones. That was the excruciating pain he was going through. He never stood up again. He’d gotten paralyzed from the waist down. He was in the hospital for about a week – 136 – and I brought him home with hospice care and nurses around the clock. He died here at home Ms. Carney: So that was in 1988? Mrs. Wright: August 6, 1988. Ms. Carney: Eight years ago, then, almost. Eight years now almost, seven and a half years. We were just saying that you were married for 43 years at the time that Skelly died and you had a very close marriage. You‘d been through a lot of things together and you’d lived together in different parts of the country. But, you kept busy. You were busy with the cathedral and with the hospice and with your mental health work. Describe a little of your mental health work here in Washington. I know that took up a good bit of your time. Mrs. Wright: That was early on when I started my mental health work in Louisiana. When Skelly was transferred up here, they asked if I would join the D.C. Board of Mental Health. By then, I also was a delegate from Louisiana to the National Board, so they made me a delegate-atlarge because I couldn’t represent Louisiana from here. Then, I served on the D.C. Board. When I went off as national president at the end of ‘73, I did get into such things as I served a little while at NIMH, National Institute of Mental Health, as one of their advisory councils. I also served on ABA Commission for the Mentally Disabled. I served on Hillcrest Children’s Center Board which was a home for emotionally disturbed children. Those were off-shoots of varieties of mental health work. Then, I served at St. Albans Church, the little sanctuary of St. Albans School and the cathedral. I worked very hard for the National Cathedral Association and was a trustee. When I quit being a trustee when my tenure was up, I became a guide or an aide, giving tours at the – 137 – cathedral. Then I went on to the Hospice Board and I served there. In my sixth year on the board, I became president of Hospice. That was the year that Skelly was beginning to get ill and I served as president that year, then I had to go off for a year. Then, I came back on. After Skelly died I was still back doing the hospice work for another six years. You could serve two three-year terms. Ms. Carney: At the Hospice Care. This was Hospice Care of D.C.? Mrs. Wright: Right. Ms. Carney: What kind of work did you do? Mrs. Wright: I was on the board. I was not a hands-on care giver. I was a member of the board and committees and did benefits — Ms. Carney: Raised money and managed the operations. And hospice care had gotten much more widespread than it was when you probably first joined? Mrs. Wright: Yes. There were two and there still are two in D.C., but they talk of merger. There is Hospice Care of D.C. and then there’s Hospice of Washington, which is out of the Washington Home. We were the first ones to have home care. Ours was basically a home care hospice, whereas the Washington Home had hospital beds. When the law was passed that required you to have 809, home care and 208 hospice beds, we then put our patients, those who needed beds — the basic philosophy of Hospice is to live to the fullest until you die. It’s the quality of your life in your last years and the purpose is not to prolong death, as I call it, instead of prolonging life. You let people live to the best of their ability until they do die and you do not do any extreme measures to keep them alive. They should be at home, die at home, – 138 – with family and loved ones with hospice care. There was a team of a nurse and a doctor and a social worker, a cleric, and a volunteer. So, those were the five components of care that Hospice does give, primarily at home. But, if a patient gets some sort of condition and needs some care that you cannot give at home, it is not, again, to prolong life or death, but rather an emergency measure, or sometimes the family figures the situation has gotten so bad and the last few days they may go into the hospital. But, primarily, they die at home, 80% of them. Also, I did that, as I say, over the years. But I also decided after Skelly died and I got a flyer from American University that allowed you to take the Appel Program. Basically, what it was, you could earn college credits through experiential living. You go there and you write an autobiography and then you write, what they call, components. They would give you credit based on what you wrote about a particular subject or topic. I had to stop college when my father died in my sophomore year in college, so I thought, well, I am going to go get my degree and so I got a whole year’s worth of credits. Ms. Carney: At AU? Mrs. Wright: Right. Ms. Carney: And you finished the first year. What did you do in the first year? Mrs. Wright: In this program you took two courses and one was a literature, a writing course. The other was the documentation. You wrote about different aspects of your life. I wrote about mental health and I wrote about death and dying. I wrote about my career, such as it was, working at the White House, working overseas in London and teaching, in any case, out of those various components. They were rated by the different – 139 – departments and I got the equivalent of a year’s college credits. So, I thought, well, I’ve only got one more year to go now. I was all gung-ho to take sociology and writing and philosophy and a few wonderful courses when they told me, no, I had to take algebra and I had to take zoology or a science course. I thought, at my age, I am not doing either one of those. And I protested, but they told me I couldn‘t get my degree without them. And, I was a bit annoyed because I had had math all through high school and went through algebra and geometry (I didn‘t do trig) but I had three math courses in high school and I had zoology at Sweet Briar but they didn’t take that credit. So, I just decided that it sounded kind of money-mad to me and I wasn’t going to spend my time and my money taking courses that were of no interest to get — and then would have to take other ceurses to complete the qualifications fer whatever degree I wanted. So I decided that wasn‘t for me. In the meantime, I had received, again through the mail, a flyer about Prosperity Press in which they pub- lished memoirs or books, or whatever, personal memoirs. So, I just decided that I had had encouragement from two of the professors saying that I really should write and don’t let this go by the board. They were very complimentary. So, I decided, well, I will publish my own book. I am sure nobody would publish it for me, but that didn’t matter. I just had done it and I wanted to kind of wrap it all up. Ms. Carney: So you completed writing your autobiography and this was last year, 1995? Mrs. Wright: In the meantime, John Pickering was a neighbor and he and his wife and Skelly and I had been friends through the years. He was of Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering law firm. His wife died. Skelly died in August and Elsa, John’s wife, died in November. And so, John and I started – 140 – going out to dinner together and seeing each other and finally decided that we had some good years left and we would share them. So, he and I were married in February of 1990. Ms. Carney: And where were you married? Mrs. Wright: In the Chapel of the Good Shepherd at the National Cathedral. It held about six people. John’s grandchildren sat in the window ledge and my son and his wife came and John’s two daughters and two husbands. So, it was crowded and compacted, maybe about ten or twelve people all together. Ruth West was the maid of honor as she had been in my marriage to Skelly. Ms. Carney: Very much a family affair. So, you have continued, though, to live in the house where you first came to Washington, which is where we are sittiug today? Mrs. Wright: Right. Ms. Carney: So, that was 1990? Mrs. Wright: Yes. Ms. Carney: And what month, you said? Mrs. Wright: February. Ms. Carney: So this was your sixth anniversary? Mrs. Wright: Yes, that’s right. Ms. Carney: And, is there volunteer work — you said you had just gone off the board of the Hospice here in D.C. Now, are you working at the Cathedral, still? Mrs. Wright: Yes. I do give tours there, still. I’ve slowed down some in the volunteer department. Kind of looking around. It took me at least a – 141 – year more to do my book. I guess I call it my gear-shifting year. Ms. Carney: I thought we might spend a little time looking at some of these photographs. Would that be okay? Mrs. Wright: Yes. Ms. Carney: Maybe we could pause for a minute, and get a glass of water. We are looking at some clips from the Post and some photographs, and there’s a clip from the Sunday, January 21, 1985 issue of the Post entitled “Two decades of activism ending on Court of Appeals.” See that photograph of Judge Pat Wald, here, started us talking about the role of women, both as law clerks and judges with Judge Wright on the bench. You were saying, Mrs. Wright, that you thought that Skelly was the first on the U.C. Circuit to have women law clerks. Mrs. Wright: Right. He got Sally Katzen, who was a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School. I really believe she was the very first woman law clerk on the court. Ms. Carney: Did you discuss this decision at the time, to have a woman law clerk? Mrs. Wright: I guess so. He was pleased with the prospect. Sally was well-qualified. I remember meeting her. She was attractive. Sally was almost six feet tall, very bright. She was kind of timid then. Sally has subsequently become a very active, competent lawyer. She went to work for Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering after she left Skelly. She has had two stints in Democratic administrations. Presently, she’s at the White House in charge of legislation regarding regulatory agencies, and is doing a very good job. – 142 – Ms. Carney: And Judge Wright went on to have a number of women law clerks, including Susan Estrich? Mrs. Wright: Yes. Susan Estrich, yes, and Carol Lee was another one. Carol was sensational. She went to Cambridge and she then went on to Yale Law School and was supposed to have had the highest grades of anybody out of Yale Law School. She was absolutely brilliant. She was Chinese, American-born Chinese. Absolutely brilliant. She now has a very important job. She just got a new job with the Export-Import Bank. She also was with Wilmer, Cutler and Pickering law firm and then she got this when Mr. Clinton came into the Presidency. She was appointed by him for something to do with one of the agencies dealing with finance. That’s way above my head. Then, he had Vicki Radd also at the White House this last election year. She was in charge of something to do with judicial appointments. I guess she screened them for the White House after the senators would send the names up. Ms. Carney: Many of his law clerks have had very illustrious careers and the list of law clerks is long. Do you recall when Judge Wright first had as a colleague a woman judge? Mrs. Wright: That was Pat Wald and then Ruth Ginsburg, of course, came on after Pat. I don’t remember the years, exactly. I had known Pat through mental health work. Pat had worked for the Mental Health Law Project when I was active with mental health. Ms. Carney: I also was thinking about looking with you at the changing list of judges sitting on the D.C. Circuit, how often it happened, of course, that various of the judges were elevated to the Supreme Court and became justices and what that meant. Was that a big ambition of Judge Wright, also? – 143 – Mrs. Wright: I think it’s an ambition of almost every law school graduate. Yes, of course, there was a lot of talk that he was headed to the Supreme Court even way back in the Fifth Circuit days. Of course, he was persona non grata then with all his de-segregationist decisions. But, they often said that Kennedy should put him on the Supreme Court. Several of the justices encouraged his going on. I know Justice Black and Douglas did, but — Ms. Carney: His integrationist decisions, anti-segregation -_ Mrs. Wright: Right. Let‘s say decisions on segregation. I didn’t think that could be confused. But, there was a lot of talk about Skelly‘s — of course he would have loved to have gone to the Supreme Court. It was interesting. Chief Justice Vinson, of course, came off of this circuit. And there’s Scalia and, of course, Bork had a crack at it. I said Bob Bork and Scalia and Ginsburg and Thomas. Ms. Carney: Warren Burger. Mrs. Wright: Warren Burger, of course. You‘ve got your conservatives at the top of the list. Ms. Carney: Is there anything more you think we ought to say to our tape recorder about Skelly’s life, your life and his time in the court? Mrs. Wright: Well, it was really a great time in our lives. It was interesting to come up and go through school desegregation again with the Hobson case. That was, I thought, oh here we go again. But, that subsided. There were wonderful people here. Some of the exposures that were most fascinating and interesting were, of course, with some of the Supreme Court justices and their wives. Of course, 1 got very close to Elizabeth Black and Justice Black. And of – 144 – course, Marjorie, one of my very closest friends. Bill Brennan who just celebrated his 90th birthday. We were, again, very close friends. Mary, his second wife, and I were good friends. Those provided just exciting, stimulating times because certainly with the Blacks, they always included us with all of their law clerks’ reunions, birthday times and many of those people have gone on, of course, to be fascinating, prestigious, interesting people. I would run into them periodically at different places. Ms. Carney: You were saying earlier that Justice Black and Judqe Wright had a very close relationship. Mrs. Wright: Yes. When Justice Black was a circuit justice for the Fifth Circuit and he would come down to New Orleans for the circuit conferences. He was, of course, persona non grata, for his feelings about equal justice for all races and he was shunned and vilified and felt quite at home with Skelly and me, and visa versa. But, Skelly would meet him at the airport and he would shepherd him to all the meetings. Kind of protecting, if you will, after these confer- ences, so that the ugliness wasn’t allowed, really, to get to him. It was an interesting time. But, anyway, that did endear one to the other and they became fast friends. Great age difference, obviously, but nonetheless, in fact, Justice Black never would let me call him Hugo. I suppose it was age difference, but also, I think, because, he was, after all, a Justice. I was allowed to call him Sweetie. He was Sweetie. When Elizabeth would send birthday cards to Skelly, it would say Eliza- beth and Sweetie. But, they were dear friends. We did lots of things together. Skelly and Justice Black — took one trip, I remember, we went to New Mexico and then we went to Tetons and Sun Valley, hop-skip-and-jump into different states, it was for business. Skelly – 145 – seldom took a vacation if it weren’t business. That was the time when we really got to know him even better and had a lovely time. I am sure that picture on the boat is on one of those excursions. Ms. Carney: You spent even more time together when he came to Washington. Mrs. Wright: Yes, and when I first came up here Elizabeth gave a lovely luncheon for me at the court with all the wives of the justices, and introducing me around. She was dear. Ms. Carney: What was the age difference between Justice Black and Skelly? Mrs. Wright: It certainly was 30 years, if not more. Ms. Carney: And despite that large gap they became close. And you described him even as a protege, almost. Mrs. Wright: Yes. Skelly admired him so extravagantly. He admired Skelly, of course, Skelly’ s courage down there. Justice Black used to talk to anyone who’d listen about getting Skelly on the Supreme Court. There was some story out that Justice Black said he‘d get off if he could guarantee Skelly’s appointment in his place. First of all, that was not possible or feasible. He and Bill Brennan were very close. Of course‘ Bill Brennan spoke at Skelly’s memorial service. They were very close. Thurgood Marshall and Skelly were close. He and Skelly’s law clerks went to work at the Solicitor General’s Office. The time up here was very stimulating. Ms. Carney: Mrs. Wright, I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts and memories. – 146 – Mrs. Wright: And I thank you, Susan, for all of your research and thoughtfulness. You’ve made this possible. – 147 –