Husband of Sandra Day O'Connor dies

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PHOENIX -- John O'Connor, a retired lawyer and husband of former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, has died of complications from Alzheimer's disease.

The Supreme Court released a statement saying O'Connor, 79, passed away Wednesday in Phoenix, Arizona. He had been living in an assisted living facility for several years.

The couple met at Stanford Law School and were married in 1952 in the future justice's family home, the Lazy B Ranch in rural Arizona. O'Connor accompanied his wife to Washington when she was named to the high court in 1981, working at various law firms there as he had in Phoenix.

He remained a low-key but supportive spouse as the justice gained wide attention as the first woman on the Supreme Court. He often accompanied her to various public appearances, and the couple was very prominent in the Washington social scene for many years.

O'Connor was diagnosed with Alzheimer's almost two decades ago, but his condition grew dramatically worse a few years ago. Colleagues at the time said Justice O'Connor-- who had been his primary caregiver-- used to bring her husband to court with her to keep an eye on him.

The justice cited her desire to care for her husband when announcing in 2005 her retirement from the bench. She formally stepped down in January 2006. The O'Connors had sold their Washington-area house around that time and were planning a permanent move to the Phoenix area.

Justice O'Connor had been regularly commuting between the two cities while continuing to give speeches and promote a new children's book she wrote. But her husband's condition had deteriorated to the point in the fall of 2005 that he needed full-time care.

In May 2008, Justice O'Connor testified before a congressional committee about her family's battle with the disease.

"I am here in the position of being a caregiver. My beloved husband, John, suffers from Alzheimer's. He has had it for a long time now. He is not in very good shape at present," she said. "As someone whose family has experienced the pain of Alzheimer's over and over again, I know there is no more helpless feeling than to watch the progression of this terrible disease."

The justice has been a tireless advocate for more research dollars to fight the disease.

John J. O'Connor III was born in San Francisco in 1930. He was active in community service and chaired several charitable, social and professional boards. In addition to his wife, he is survived by three sons and six grandchildren.