Law & the Courts

The Corner

Thomas Griesa, R.I.P.

We’ve lost a great. Judge Tom Griesa died last night. My wife and I got to know him and his beloved wife Chris on a National Review cruise. My wife formed an instant bond with the couple over their mutual love of music and the arts. We began attending operas and ballets together on a regular basis. We’d always go to dinner beforehand. The three of them would talk composers, singers, dancers, and conductors, and I’d listen patiently (my contribution was talking politics with Tom). 

Tom was a great enthusiast of, well, everything. His characteristic gesture was slapping his leg in delight. He would do it whenever he saw us, or when he ended one of his stories or when he heard one of yours. He loved whatever book he was reading, and invariably pronounced whatever we saw or heard at Lincoln Center as simply marvelous.

Tom and Chris were already quite old when we became friends, but they were youthful spirits who simply paid no attention to age. They kept an incredibly active schedule, including travel. Chris fell ill and became quite frail. They still insisted on keeping our dates at Lincoln Center. We’d be worried about poor Chris tipping over or taking a wrong step, but they’d walk through the crowds like they were 40 years younger. When Chris started using a wheel chair, it was a major concession.

Even then, Tom and Chris always kept their Saturday tennis lesson. It was hard to imagine how they managed it, but they did—because that’s the way they were.

Tom always called her his “darling girl.” She was elegant and sweet to the end, and for him, she never stopped being the young ballet dancer who trained in Paris and performed at Radio City (she ran afoul of the union because she wanted more rehearsal time). As far as great love stories go, don’t give me a prince and a princess, or whatever the latest celebrity pairing is—give me Tom and Chris Griesa, who exemplified true love and faithfulness for decades and every day they had together.

After Tom lost Chris, he still traveled. He took a trip to Cuba after the Obama opening. He hated Communism, but here was the opportunity to do something new, so why not? (He came back disappointed—maybe the second or third time I’d ever heard him disappointed in anything—and told us never to go.)

Tom grew up in the 1930s in Kansas City in a rock-ribbed Republican family. He used to tell stories of the bullying of the local Democratic political machine, and the time he met Herbert Hoover. He went to Harvard and then Stanford Law School and was appointed to the district court for the Southern District of New York by Richard Nixon.

He presided over the Argentine debt case a few years ago, and his tough-minded handling of the the case didn’t go over well in that country. Tom enjoyed a newspaper picture of a derisive float mocking him at an Argentine street parade. It was an occasion for great amusement. 

He was devoted to the Constitution, the law and his clerks. Not working wasn’t imaginable to him. It wasn’t till near the end of his own illness when he was, to be frank, in a bad way at the hospital that he said to my wife that he was beginning to think maybe he should retire.

A buoyant spirit, an inveterate optimist, a man of culture,  principle and faith, a talented jurist, an utterly devoted husband, a great patriot, he was a man in full, and then some. Farewell, Tom. Chris awaits you, and you will remain a model of how to live for everyone who knew and loved you. R.I.P.


Rich Lowry — Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: 

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