When I saw the tweet about Sarah Weddington’s passing and read the Texas Tribune’s obituary, I thought back to the first time that I met her. She spoke at an event at the University of Nebraska, back when I was working there, and she told a classic story about how she learned to take some time for self-care (“put the oxygen mask on yourself first”). She and I started corresponding, and when I went to work at the University of Houston, I invited her to be a commencement speaker at graduation. I figured that our students would love to hear from a Texan who had argued her first Supreme Court case before she’d turned 30, who had served in the Texas Legislature and in the Carter White House, and who was a beloved teacher. Some of our students were, in fact, thrilled, but others were not, given her role in Roe v. Wade.
We had to plan for contingencies at that graduation: Would someone take a shot at her (or at me, for inviting her)? Would the protests be unruly or respectful? (The protests were respectful, with the protesting students wearing baby-feet pins on their gowns.) Sarah took it all in stride, having long become used to plainclothes protection, and — despite having been diagnosed with breast cancer shortly before she spoke at UH — she gave a touching speech that, as I recall, had nothing to do with Roe and everything to do with leadership and service. I was so happy that my parents and my spouse got to meet her that day.
We continued to stay in touch, with a few of us trying to find a home for her papers. Jeff and I toured the Women’s Museum at Fair Park (now closed) and saw the suit that she’d worn in her first Supreme Court argument. She continued to mentor people, and to speak, and to appear fearless. Appearing fearless is no easy trick, but brave people are brave not because they’re fearless but because they do what they need to do even when they’re terrified.
We’ve lost so many people in the last few years, and we lost two Texas giants this year: Sarah and Muffie Moroney. I just assume that they’re hanging out in Heaven with Ann Richards and Molly Ivins, and I miss them both. R.I.P.