To many people Justice Adolpho A. Birch was bigger than life. There's a building downtown that bears his name. A bust of Justice Birch greets you when you enter the Tennessee Supreme Court Building. But this seemingly bigger-than-life-figure shared a simple view of greatness when I interviewed him nearly 10 years ago.
"Children's role models should be their parents," said Justice A.A. Birch.
A preachers' kid and the father of three, friends say Justice Birch practiced what he preached up until his passing last night at the age of 78.
"He talked about his family he was so proud of his children and their achievements," said John Seigenthaler Sr.
Friends like Seigenthaler have known Justice Birch since the days of the Civil Rights Movement. Those who knew him well say he was tenacious but also gracious. Judge Richard Dinkins recalls a man who, at times, seemed more mythical than real.
"He was very strict you entered his court with a certain palpitation in your heart," said Dinkins.
Dinkins goes on to say imagine making your case in front of the state's first supreme court justice to have served at every lower judicial level. I boldly asked if he ever felt he had an advantage as a black man. The answer was an even bolder no.
"The advantage or disadvantage would come if one was prepared and knowledgeable or not prepared and not knowledgeable," said Dinkins.
Seigenthaler went a step further, saying history has recorded many firsts when the name Adolpho A. Birch is mentioned, and the color of his skin soon follows. But he adds, it's the content of the man's character he will miss the most.
"The greatness was there and it transcends race it transcends color. He was what he was, he was some man, some Justice, and some friend," said Seigenthaler.
Birch will lie in repose from 2 to 5 p.m. Tuesday at the historic Metro Courthouse in downtown Nashville. A memorial service will follow at 6 p.m. at War Memorial Auditorium.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Justice A.A. Birch Jr. Legal Education Fund, P.O. Box 331487, Nashville, 37203.
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