WASHINGTON – William Rehnquist was celebrated Wednesday as a man of humor and hope, a leader who led fairly and as a father and grandfather who knew “time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.”

In a moving and personal service at Washington’s St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Rehnquist was recalled less as the 16th chief justice of the United States than as a devoted family man and friend, in tributes by his children and granddaughter, and President Bush and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Bush said Rehnquist had “earned his place among our great chief justices” through his “powerful intellect and clear convictions” and his overriding sense of fairness and collegiality. But the president, like Rehnquist’s old law school classmate O’Connor, spoke most vividly about the qualities that made Rehnquist an icon to family, friends and former law clerks.

“To work beside William Rehnquist is to learn how a wise man looks at the law and how a good man looks at life,” Bush said.

One of those former clerks, Judge John G. Roberts Jr., is Bush’s nominee to take Rehnquist’s place. He sat in the audience with his wife, Jane, not far from the Republican and Democrat leaders of the Senate who will begin the fight over his nomination on Monday.

The ceremony drew hundreds of former clerks and court employees, as well as Vice President Dick Cheney, the eight associate justices of the Supreme Court, leading members of Congress and top Cabinet officials. But the focus was very much on Rehnquist the person, who really believed, as his daughter Nancy Rehnquist Spears said, “that sooner or later, things turn out for the best.”

Rehnquist had selected the songs for his funeral, which included “Amazing Grace” and “America the Beautiful,” and, as he would have insisted, every verse was sung.

Just a week before his death from thyroid cancer, he believed he would be leading his eight colleagues when the court began its new term in October, said his minister, the Rev. George Evans. But his condition quickly deteriorated, and he died Saturday in his Virginia home, surrounded by his family. He was 80.

“My father was an incredible optimist,” Spears said. “In circumstances that would’ve brought down most, he continued to get up and go to work – every day.”

He was a husband who read books aloud with his beloved wife, Natalie, until she died in 1991. Her homemade bread, he once told her, “improved the quality of (my) life,” Spears recalled. He was a father who stressed to his son’s high school graduating class – during the Vietnam War – that they should always smell the roses, said son James. And he was “Gramp,” who told his granddaughters how to peek at their opponents’ cards through the reflection in the window during a poker game, said Natalie Ann Rehnquist Lynch.

All the eulogists recalled Rehnquist’s sense of humor, his sly and irreverent quips that could catch a person unaware. Bush recalled the Supreme Court argument when one of the lawyers told the justices he doubted they would be fooled by his opponent’s arguments.

“Don’t overestimate us,” Rehnquist quickly injected.

His humor stayed with him until his final days, O’Connor said. She told the story of how, in the emergency room of a local hospital in the final week of his life, the examining physician asked Rehnquist who was his primary care doctor.

“Dentist,” he struggled to say, with, as O’Connor related, a “twinkle in his eye.”

O’Connor recalled Rehnquist’s love of a good wager – be it on the outcome of a football or baseball game, an election or even the amount of snow that would fall in the court’s courtyard.

“I think the chief bet he could live out another term despite his illness,” O’Connor said. “He lost that bet, as did all of us, but he won all the prizes for a life well lived. We love you, William Hubbs Rehnquist.”

Rehnquist was buried alongside his wife in a private ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

(Chicago Tribune correspondent Steven K. Ivey contributed to this report.)

(c) 2005, Chicago Tribune.

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