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'She's Mom': Brian Day O'Connor on growing up with mother at highest court

Brian Day O'Connor with his parents at his graduation from Colorado College in 1982
Posted at 6:39 PM, Jul 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-06 15:07:33-04

PHOENIX (KGUN) — Growing up in the O'Connor household meant staying busy.

"There was no miller time, no idle time with mom," Brian Day O'Connor said.

Brian has two brothers, one older and one younger. When they were kids, they spent a lot of time together as a family.

Brian said most of his summers were spent on the ranch where his mom had grown up.

"You know as kids we learned how to you know round up, brand, ride a horse, drive a tractor, drive a tractor, again well before we were able to drive," Brian said.

Sandra Day O'Connor and her boys on the ranch where she grew up
Sandra Day O'Connor and her boys on the ranch where she grew up

Brian's parents kept him and his brothers busy, but they knew how to have fun too. Although sometimes it was at the expense of his friends.

"My parents were pranksters," Brian said. "Whenever any of one us might have a pal over my mom would be in on the gig. She would make dinner and we'd be sitting around the able and there would be a dribble glass and you go to drink it and it causes you to drool. My parents would say what what's the matter and of course we are all in on the joke."

Brian shared several funny moments with his family, but sometimes Justice O'Connor was a bit stricter with him.

"When I was not even old enough to drive, I had been secretly hand gliding and my parents found out and my mom was furious. She said, 'I would rather see you jump out of an airplane'," Brian said.

But Brian got the last laugh on this one, because as soon as he turned 16, he asked to go skydiving.

"She made good on that," Brian said. "There is a time she puts her fist down and no means no, but also a deal is a deal with Sandra O'Connor."

Brian Day O'Connor Skydiving
Brian Day O'Connor Skydiving

Just a few years later, his mom got the call from President Reagan to join the Supreme Court, but that wasn't the only call she got.

"She was the hottest ticket there was, so she had every academia university trying to give their commencement address," Brian said. "Of course, the one she chose was Colorado College where I was graduating from."

While Brian sat awaiting his diploma with his friends, his mom took center stage to deliver the commencement address for the class of 1982.

Sandra Day O'Connor at Colorado College in 1982
Sandra Day O'Connor at Colorado College in 1982

"I think that was as special as it was for her because she had paid my tuition along with my dad to give that commencement address as it was for me to have her," Brian said.

Brian still has the speech today and keeps it in a drawer near his desk. He says that words are still relevant to those who recent college graduates.

"She says that some of the best arguments in the 150 or so she heard from that term had been made by lawyers who would be characterized as unknowns and sometimes the arguments of the famed lawyer failed to live up to his or her reputations," Brian read. "The essential point in all of this is simply to make the same point in a different context that the individual can make things happen."

After Brian finished college, he would get to visit his mom in Washington, D.C. every now and then and just like when he was a kid, she kept him busy with sightseeing around town.

During some of his visits he got to know many of his mom's colleagues on the bench.

"All of these folks I just considered friends and was so happy on a one-to-one basis to get to know some of these people," Brian said.

One moment Brian got to share with his kids and his mom was when Justice O'Connor had a statue built for her in the federal courthouse in Phoenix.

"She had all of her grandkids and sons sign this statue while it was still clay on the base of it on the bottom of her robe," Brian said. "So that's kind of a neat legacy to have."

Sandra Day O'Connor Statue
Sandra Day O'Connor Statue

While the statue in the courthouse is of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, to Brian she'll always be mom.