Former Supreme Court Justice David Souter is hoping to be a role model for students at Concord High.

By RAY DUCKLER

Monitor columnist

Published: 06-12-2023 7:00 AM

Concord High’s principal knew that the local legal scholar preferred life below the radar.

He’d read that the personal life of David Souter of Weare, named the 105th justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1990, was off limits, as was any legal comment on thorny issues.

Souter, in fact, hated the idea of TV cameras in the courtroom, and he donated his personal and professional papers to the NH Historical Society and declared them off limits to all living souls for 50 years. That’s more years than usual.

“I heard that he’s reticent to get involved in things,” said Michael Reardon, Concord High’s principal. “I heard he did not readily go to events, so I wrote him a letter explaining what we were doing.”

Reardon told Souter that the school’s spanking-new Wall of Fame was nearly ready to unveil, opening on Tuesday. Two Concord High graduates would be inducted each year, one still with us, the other deceased.

Souter graduated from Concord High in 1957. Reardon explained in his message that Souter would be the first living inductee to the Wall. War hero General Edward Brooks, Class of 1911, will be honored posthumously.

And, to Reardon’s surprise, Souter responded with enthusiasm. “He said he would be honored to participate,” Reardon said. “We’re so very excited to have him. He’s a pretty distinguished guy.”

Pretty distinguished, indeed. Graduate of Harvard and Oxford. Supreme Court Justice for 19 years, appointed by Republican President George H.W. Bush.

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His selection by Bush figured to add a conservative voice to the Court, but, instead, Souter moved to the center and even drifted left during his time on the bench. Some Republicans resented both Bush for his choice, and Souter for being too liberal.

It’s doubtful Souter will talk about topics like that, but he’ll speak to the seniors as part of a strategic plan created to inspire students as they turn the page.

“The core idea is twofold,” Reardon said. “We want to honor people like him and we want to present them as a role model for present-day students.”

Souter went above and beyond. Reardon sought two students to write and read a greeting to introduce Souter. Senior Alexandria Grappone Jr., and Allyson Moore, a sophomore, stepped forward.

And when Reardon reviewed their work, he suggested they delve deeper, look for more human stuff, get in close. Up to a point, of course.

Souter agreed to meet them. “He did not want to get into personal stuff,” Reardon said, “so I cautioned them before they interviewed him.”

But this was more than merely an interview. “He said maybe they would like to come to my chambers in Concord,” Reardon said, “and they did that at the end of the school day and went downtown and asked him questions for an hour.”

Reardon boldly declared that, “They were the first people he has granted an interview since retiring.” Part two of an opportunity to meet this important and mysterious historical figure will be presented Tuesday night at 6 at the high school. About 40 free tickets remain and can be picked up at the front office on a first-come, first-served basis.

The wall is located in the school on Main Street, at the crossroads of the east and west buildings. The plaques were due this weekend, and the woodwork was finished a few weeks ago thanks to a master carpenter named Brad Wolcott, a 2001 Concord High graduate and veteran of the war in Iraq.

Meanwhile, General Brooks, class of 1911, received the Distinguished Service Cross for service in World War I. He later led the 2nd Armored Division on a beach in Normandy three days after D-Day. Then he commanded the U.S. Second Army in Korea.

Social studies teachers Kim Bleir-Woods and Dan Breen knew their history and contacted one of the general’s grandchilden, who’s scheduled to appear as well. The general walked with kings, like Eisenhower and Churchill.

Souter walked with legal scholars. He retired in 2009, after nearly 19 years on the bench. He’s 83. He’ll speak with students Tuesday, hoping to inspire them to reach their potential. Other thoughts remain sealed.

“People knew he did not exactly do these kinds of  things,” Reardon said, “so it was kind of exciting that this worked. It was satisfying, and we are very pleased.”

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