On October 23, former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor announced that she has been diagnosed with dementia. O’Connor is 88 years old. She said that, as the disease progresses, she is realizing that she’s no longer able to keep up with the demands of public life. But the former justice wrote that, in spite of her condition, “nothing has diminished my gratitude and deep appreciation for the countless blessings in my life.”
She made the announcement in an open letter released by the Supreme Court’s public information office. You can read the full letter here.
O’Connor stepped down from the Supreme Court in 2006 to care for her husband, John, after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She plans to continue living in Arizona, “surrounded by friends and family,” for now. Here’s what you need to know about Sandra Day O’Connor’s family:
1. O’Connor Has Three Sons: Scott, Brian, & Jay
Sandra Day married John Jay O’Connor, an Arizona lawyer, in 1952. The couple met while they were both students at Stanford Law School. They married after law school and moved to Frankfurt, Germany, where John was stationed with the military.
Their first son, Scott, was born in 1958; Brian was born in 1960, and Jay was born in 1962. Sandra too five years off of work to spend at home, focusing on raising the boys, before she returned to practicing law.
Scott O’Connor is a commercial real estate developer in Phoenix, Arizona. Brian O’Connor is self-employed and lives in Cave Creek, Arizona. Sandra has six grandchildren.
2. O’Connor’s Husband, John Jay, Suffered from Alzheimer’s for 20 Years & Eventually Fell in Love With a Fellow Patient
Sandra Day O’Connor said that one of the main reasons she stepped down from the court was to care for her husband, John Jay O’Connor. John was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1989 and spent years with progressive memory loss and deteriorating health before passing away in 2009.
At the end of his life, John was living in a nursing home — which is where he found new love with a fellow patient in the home. The fellow patient was identified only as “Kay.” O’Connor said that she was “happy” that her husband had found love — she said that John had gone through a period of intense depression, seeming uninterested in everything and everyone around him, and she was glad that he had found a new source of happiness.
Her son, Scott, said, “Mom was thrilled that Dad was relaxed and happy and comfortable living here and wasn’t complaining.” He added, “For Mom to visit when he’s happy … visiting with his girlfriend, sitting on the porch swing holding hands,” was a relief.
3. O’Connor’s Parents Owned the ‘Lazy B’ Cattle Ranch in Southeastern Arizona
Sandra Day O’Connor’s parents, Harry and Ida Mae Day, owned a cattle ranch in Southeastern Arizona, where Sandra grew up. Life on the ranch was hard work — there was no electricity or running water, and everyone had to pitch in and work hard.
When Sandra got old enough for school, her parents sent her to El Paso, Texas, where she lived with her grandmother and attended, first Radford School for girls, and later Austin High School. Sandra spent the summers on her parents’ ranch and returned to El Paso during the school year; there was no opportunity to attend a good school near the ranch.
4. O’Connor’s Brother, Alan Day, Took Over Their Parents’ Cattle Ranch & Says He Has ‘Soil Running Through His Blood’
Alan Day is working on his first novel, which he’s writing in partnership with Lynn Wiese Sneyd. The two have already worked together on Alan’s memoir, “The Horse Lover,” and on “Cowboy Up.”
Alan Day graduated from the University of Arizona and then returned home to take over the management of the “Lazy B” cattle ranch where he and his siters grew up. Alan says that his upbringing “branded him a cowboy from the day he was born” and maintains that he has “soil running through his blood.”
5. O’Connor’s Sister, Ann Day, Spent 10 Years in the Arizona State Senate
Ann Day often described herself as a “cowgirl from the Lazy B,” a reference to the ranch in southeastern Arizona where she, Alan, and Sandra all grew up. She graduated from Arizona State University and began teaching in the public school system. She won a seat on the Arizona State Senate in 1990 and served for 10 years in the State Senate, before retiring in 2000.
Ann died tragically in a car accident in 2016, at the age of 77. She was driving near Tucson when another car swerved across the median and hit her vehicle head-on. The car behind her rear-ended her as a result. Police said afterwards that the driver who hit her head-on may have been “impaired.”
John McCain said, at the time, “With Ann’s tragic death, our state has lost a tireless advocate who dedicated her life to public service — as a teacher, state senator and Pima County supervisor. Cindy and my prayers are with Ann’s family and loved ones, as well as the entire Arizona community, during this difficult time.”