Judge Max Rosenn
In the fall of 2002, I was privileged to sit with Judge Max Rosenn at a community function. As on many previous occasions, I had numerous questions about his life and he eagerly shared his past experiences with me. When I asked him if he had written his personal memoirs, he responded that his professional life had been extensively documented and that WVIA-TV, the local public television station, was in the process of producing an hour-long documentary about his life. He said that he had received many offers to document his personal life but had refused them all. Having always felt comfortable asking questions of Judge Rosenn, I decided to “bite the bullet:” I asked, “Would you be willing to have me come to your chambers with a tape recorder and interview you about your personal life?” Expecting a negative reply, I was pleasantly surprised when he quickly answered that he would like that very much. We agreed to pursue this project after the new year.
In the following weeks, I developed an interview outline and sent it to the Judge. After he approved it, he arranged for a former secretary to transcribe the tapes at the conclusion of the interviews, and we agreed to meet in his chambers on January 16, 2003. We had no further discussion about the length or scope of this project.
At that first meeting, Judge Rosenn, gracious as always, introduced me to Virginia, his secretary, and showed me around his office before inviting me to sit on a soft, comfortable chair. After asking Virginia to hold all his calls, he closed the door to his office and seated himself on the sofa. I started the tape recorder and the process began. “Where do you want to start?” Judge Rosenn asked.
After an hour of spontaneous conversation during which neither of us used notes, I suggested we stop and he agreed. Much to my surprise and pleasure, Judge Rosenn asked that we schedule another meeting the following week. Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m. became our regular meeting time and we seldom missed a week.
I became a familiar face to the security guards in the lobby of the Max Rosenn Federal Court House. Judge Rosenn always informed them of my expected arrival but never disclosed the nature of my visits. After a few weeks of regularly inspecting my tape recorder, they asked if I was taping the Judge. I explained the interview project and they were fascinated. Each week they asked, “What are you up to now?” and I replied, “He’s entering elementary school,” or “He just got married.” It became our running joke. I also became a familiar face to Virginia and to Judge Rosenn’s current law clerks. They, too, were fascinated by the project and expressed a deep interest in seeing the finished product.
On at least two occasions, the Judge invited my husband, Marvin, and me to dinner with his beloved sister, Lillian. We always enjoyed this social time, for being in their company was intellectually stimulating and personally heart-warming.
At the start of each of our interview sessions, Judge Rosenn asked me about my professional career and my personal life, and listened with keen interest as I responded. We sometimes spoke briefly about politics and international affairs. At other times, Judge Rosenn shared stories of those whose lives touched his, for example, a former law clerk who had recently married or given birth, or a dignitary who had written to express kind words of admiration and esteem. After some minutes of this type of conversation, he often said, “Are you ready to be bored with my ramblings about my life?” Of course, I assured him they were anything but boring.
After the first half-dozen meetings, I asked him two important questions. As I heard his responses, I came to realize how significant this project was to Judge Rosenn. I asked, “Why did you never document your personal life before?” He responded, “I was asked many times but I refused. Other offers involved me dictating my memories into a machine and someone transcribing the text. You were the first person who wanted to sit with me and have a conversation together and that interested me very much.” Regardless of his stature in the community and in the legal profession, Judge Rosenn was, first and foremost, a man who appreciated his relationships with people. The second question concerned the material he was sharing with me in the form of personal memories. I asked if his sons and grandchildren were familiar with the stories he was sharing with me. He said that they knew some but much of it would be new to them. It was at that moment that I knew our work together was very significant.
I found it remarkable that we never spoke about the number of meetings we would have. The project unfolded and week followed week, month followed month. Sometimes Judge Rosenn would ask to add something from the previous week but most often we picked up where we had left off. His memory was sharp; he often closed his eyes as he spoke, as if he were visualizing those memories from decades ago. On only one occasion did I find him visibly tired, something he remarked on at our next meeting.
Although we frequently laughed at his memories of his youthful escapades, he became noticeably subdued when he spoke about his mother and his wife, the two most important women in his life. On only one occasion did he become teary-eyed: when I asked him what he regretted most and he replied that he wished he had been a better father to his sons.
At our 24th meeting, we agreed that our next meeting would conclude the interviews. I had reserved some special questions for the last meeting and Judge Rosenn graciously answered them all. He expressed great warmth and appreciation for my time and interest. I told him that our conversations were a true blessing for me and I would never forget them—or him.
To celebrate our work together, Judge Rosenn invited Marvin and me to dinner. On the way to the restaurant, I requested that we visit the neighborhood where he had grown up and the elementary school he had attended. I took some photos and he pointed out landmarks relating to some of the stories he had recounted.
Months later, when the interviews had been transcribed, I asked Judge Rosenn’s opinion of the “book,” as his intention was to seek publication of the material. He said he believed it had historical significance and that his family would learn some new things about him and his life. It was important to him to do the first edit himself and he set December, 2005, as his deadline for completion. Early in January, 2006, he became ill; he died on February 7, 2006.
I am privileged to have had the opportunity to know Judge Max Rosenn in such a personal way. He expressed genuine appreciation for the work we did together. The fact that this project occurred at the final chapter of his life gave him the opportunity to relive all the important events in his life and to share his memories and feelings about the people who were closest to his heart. For me to be present at those periods of reminiscence was a great honor. Six weeks after he completed editing the material, he died. I felt a sense of closure on the life of this renowned jurist and remarkable man.