When Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart announced his retirement in 1981 after 23 years on the Court, it was clearly a traumatic occasion for his colleagues, according to correspondence in Stewart's newly public papers at Yale University.
"I find myself much more deeply moved by this change than I would have expected," Justice John Paul Stevens said in a hanwritten note to Stewart. At the time, Stevens was the Court's newest justice. "When I felt the need of personal counsel from an older and wise member of this Court, it was to you whom I turned," Stevens also wrote.
Justice Harry Blackmun sent a typeweritten note, he said, because "my hand would shake" if he wrote it longhand. "It has been a rare privilege and an honor to have spent 11 years serving with you on the same bench, agreeing with you often and disagreeing at times. I am grateful for your presence and your example."
Along with the sadness at Stewart's leaving, there was some wariness about the newcomer, Sandra Day O'Connor. Justice Lewis Powell Jr. -- who later became a close friend to O'Connor -- wrote to Stewart, "In view of what Bill Rehnquist said about her, she may be a good appointment. If she meets your qualifications, it will be good to have a woman on the court." Rehnquist, then an associate justice, had been a Stanford Law School classmate of O'Connor's.