Eulogy of Supreme Court Justice John F. Wright by Chief Justice Michael G. Heavican - funeral service March 22, 2018

Eulogy of Supreme Court Justice John F. Wright by Chief Justice Michael G. Heavican - funeral service March 22, 2018

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Thank you, Reverend Messer.

On behalf of the Nebraska Supreme Court and the entire Nebraska judicial branch, our deepest condolences to John’s wife, Debbie, and his children, Jane, Charles, John, and Ellen.

John was a great judge and a great man. The court will not be the same without him.

When I was appointed to the position of Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court in 2006, John had already served on the Court for 12 years. He had been appointed to the Nebraska Court of Appeals by Governor Ben Nelson two years before that, after decades of successful private practice.

It immediately became apparent that John embodied all the qualities any state could hope for in a Supreme Court Judge. John was intelligent. He understood the law and the Court’s role as its keeper. He also had a healthy dose of common sense and never lost sight of fairness and justice.

John was often passionate about his beliefs and always courageous in defending them. But he never forgot how important it is for a judge to have a measure of humility. John was collegial and courteous. He listened and considered other points of view. He was not afraid to change his mind or bend when he thought it was right to do so.

John was equally unafraid to stand firm. He was decisive when he needed to be. He was -- because of these qualities -- always a leader. On the rare occasion when the court did not agree and John was in the minority, he wrote dissents that were informative and straight to the point. John’s motto was that dissents should be no longer than 3 pages (I told you he would be missed). John followed that maxim and still was able to say what needed to be said.

John managed to fight for what he thought was right without ever alienating other members of the Court. Even when we disagreed, John never stopped being part of the glue that kept our Court together.

Of course John will be missed not only because of the integrity and intelligence he brought to the Court. John was truly a good man. He was compassionate and dedicated to his family. It was apparent to everyone how much John loved his wife, his children, and his grandchildren.

John used to say that when raising kids, it was important to always be encouraging and never discouraging. And John lived by those great words: be encouraging, not discouraging. Always choose hope. That was John’s attitude towards life.

John would often stop and chat in the halls or parking lot with fellow judges or staff. He really cared about other people and what was going on in their lives. He treated every person at the Supreme Court as a trusted and esteemed colleague. Those who spoke to him always came away encouraged. And entertained. Anyone who has had one of those hallway or parking lot chats with John knows how much he loved to tell stories.

John loved to discuss just about any topic. He had an astonishing breadth of knowledge and interests: science -- not all judges spend their free time reading Scientific American -- military trivia, football, and many other things.

Did I mention football? John, like all good Nebraskans, was a staunch supporter of Nebraska football. John and Debbie have had season tickets for years. And on Monday mornings, John liked to talk about football. John didn’t talk in generalities like many of us do concerning the highs and lows of our favorite football team. John talked details.

John had opinions about everybody who did -- or didn’t -- block or tackle, run or catch. If he ever violated the principles of positivity that I just outlined, it was on Monday mornings during football season. Fortunately, I do not believe that John either blogged or had a Twitter account. The Huskers can be glad about that too.

In Court opinions, we usually briefly summarize in our conclusions what we detailed in the body. Though I hesitate to summarize John’s life, I would point to his service to the Courts, to the State of Nebraska, and to our great country.

But also I would point to John’s tremendous enthusiasm for life and all of the mysteries of this world. John, on more than one occasion, told the story of his parents finding him as a very young child rummaging through a dumpster in his native Scottsbluff. He was searching for treasure and for whatever new knowledge a youngster might gain from what others had abandoned.

We on the Court saw that inquisitiveness at every oral argument and at every Consultation. We saw that search for knowledge and that need to know what was hidden under the surplus. John’s enthusiasm for life and inquisitiveness about all the mysteries of this world was infectious and a positive influence on everybody who knew him -- and a positive influence on the Nebraska Supreme Court.

We work with words every day. But I’m afraid my words here today have been inadequate to describe the life that brought so much to us all.

John was unique. Uniquely qualified for the job. Uniquely strong, inquisitive, caring, and just. He was like no other.

John, we’ll miss you.