Souter visits hometown, gives new school boost


WEARE, N.H. (AP) – U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter returned to his hometown this weekend to help break ground for a new school. While there, he joked that a friend told him it was better than breaking ground for a hotel, on his own land.

A California man upset by a Supreme Court ruling last year that New London, Conn., could take land for private development started a campaign to take Souter’s land for a hotel. It failed.

Appearing in public is rare for Souter, but he said he was glad to be able to help boost the new Weare Middle School. He did not comment during the eminent domain controversy that prompted a town vote, but made light of it during his comments Saturday, quoting a friend, Weare resident John McCausland.

“You’re a lot better off breaking ground for a middle school than breaking ground for the Lost Liberty Hotel,” Souter quoted McCausland as telling him.

Souter, with a “WMS Rocks” sticker on his suit coat, told residents of his days in school in Weare a half-century ago. For one thing, he said, the days were numbered, literally. On the first day of school, he said, he would begin a countdown through the 180 days to summer vacation.

But he was paying attention in class. Souter recalled sixth grade, 1950-51, with Miss Betty Purington as the year he began a lifelong study of history that continues today.

And he said another teacher, Scott Eastman, the town moderator, influenced him by the way he ran Town Meeting.

“Scott Eastman, without any doubt, was the fairest man I ever saw in public life,” Souter said.

He said he hopes the kids who attend the new school will be as lucky as he was.

“I guess my wish for them is that they are going to have Miss Puringtons and Mr. Eastmans,” he said. “So wish that with me.”

Miss Purington, now Betty Straw and president of the town historical society, had high praise for her former student, calling him extremely bright and very gracious.

“He could disagree whit a teacher so nicely that you didn’t take offense,” she said. “Never belligerent, never aggravating.”