WASHINGTON – John J. O'Connor III, the husband of retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, has died.
The court said that O'Connor, 79, died Wednesday in Arizona of complications arising from Alzheimer's disease.
John O'Connor, himself a lawyer, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's nearly two decades ago. His condition deteriorated markedly in mid-decade and when she announced her retirement in 2005, the justice cited the need to care her husband.
The O'Connors were married in 1952 and became a leading couple on Washington's social scene when they moved from Arizona in 1981 following her confirmation as the first woman on the Supreme Court.
Following her retirement, Sandra O'Connor made public her family's battle with Alzheimer's and became a vocal supporter of additional money for Alzheimer's research.
The family also shared a poignant development, saying that O'Connor struck up a romance with a fellow Alzheimer's patient after moving into an assisted living center in Phoenix. The relationship changed his outlook for the better, their son, Scott, said, adding that his mother was just glad that he was comfortable.
John O'Connor had practiced law in Phoenix for nearly a quarter century before his wife's ascension to the Supreme Court. He continued his work in Washington, also providing support and reassurance to a new justice in a historic role. O'Connor also had legendary skill as a teller of humorous stories, often delivered in expert dialect.
The O'Connors met as students at Stanford University's law school, where another student at the time was the future chief justice, William Rehnquist. They were married at the Lazy B Ranch in southeastern Arizona, her childhood home.
O'Connor is survived by his wife, three sons, Scott, Brian and Jay, and six grandchildren. Memorial services will be private.