Citation(2002) 14 SAcLJ 183
Published date01 December 2002
Date01 December 2002

1 My husband and I have felt very privileged indeed to have the opportunity to visit Singapore. We have looked forward with much anticipation to visiting here and we are not disappointed. You make strangers and visitors feel very welcome indeed.

2 As the Chief Justice told you, I am the first cowgirl to serve on the United States Supreme Court. It is a long way from the Lazy B Ranch to Singapore. I grew up on a cattle ranch in the American Southwest, a ranch that was started by my grandfather Day in 1880 on land in both Arizona and New Mexico. It was still part of the territory of Arizona in 1880 and anyone who wished to use the land could do so. Much of it was federally owned. My grandfather went to Mexico and bought cattle, which were branded with a Lazy B — a B lying down on its side. We called the ranch the “Lazy B.” Singapore, as I understand it, consists of roughly 240 square miles. The Lazy B Ranch was a bit larger than that. Singapore has 4 million people, and we had 10 people, more or less, who lived and worked on the ranch.

3 It was a rather spartan life there. The ranch was on high desert, about 5000 feet in elevation, but had no more than about ten inches of rainfall a year.

4 My favorite American author was Wallace Stegner. He said:

“There is something about living in big empty space where people are few and distant, under a great sky that is alternately serene and furious, exposed to sun from four in the morning till nine at night, and to a wind that never seems to rest — there is something about exposure to that big country that not only tells an individual how small he is, but steadily tells him who he is.”

5 Most ranch land provides better grazing than where the Lazy B Ranch was located. It was along the Gila River in both Arizona and New Mexico and it was populated by such things as deer, antelope, javelina, raccoons, badgers, coyotes, rabbits, bob-cats, rattle snakes, desert tortoises and all kinds of insects and birds.

6 My father was born on the Lazy B Ranch, and ended up living there until his death in the 1980s. When my father took over the management of the ranch, he made a trip to Texas to buy a load of bulls, and he says he got my mother as “part of the deal.” Her father sold my father the bulls, and he invited my father to come have dinner at their house. If there is such a thing as love at first sight, it occurred that night. When my father went

back to the Lazy B Ranch, he and my mother wrote to each other all through the summer. Finally, my father wrote to my mother that he did not have much of a future, stuck on the ranch, that surely my mother could find somebody better to take care of her, and that they should just end the relationship. There the correspondence ended; two weeks later, they eloped. My mother joined him at the Lazy B Ranch. Her mother was not pleased about this. At the time, there was only a four-room house, no indoor plumbing and no running water. My mother thought it was going to be all right. But her mother’s advice to her was, “Ada Mae, don’t ever learn to milk the cow.” My mother didn’t. She managed all through the years to be very nicely dressed, and whenever she went outside she had the good sense to wear a hat, gloves, and long sleeves. She and my father led a very happy life on the Lazy B Ranch.

7 My earliest memory of the ranch was of sounds. Most of the time, it was a place of all-encompassing silence. Probably living here in Singapore, with people constantly around, you never experience silence like that. But it was complete silence, unless the wind blew. If the wind blew, then the big windmills would start to turn and the suckerods would make noise as they moved up and down in the well casing. At night, I would lie in bed and hear the coyotes howling in the distance. It was a very lonesome sound, I have to say.

8 Our obsession was water. Water is one of the most precious things we have in the world. I predict that in the 21st century we will have to deal with water shortages all around the globe. Even Singapore has to buy some of its water offshore. All our waking hours were spent worrying that we would not get enough rainfall to grow enough grass to feed the cattle.

9 The people on the ranch tended to be the old style cowboys. They were usually unmarried men who lived all their lives on the ranch. They were special people, and I learned a lot from them. They were not well educated; some were illiterate. They could not read the written word, but they could read signs. They could tell you whether a horse had gone past the area, whether the horse had a rider or not, and how many days ago it occurred. Everything on that desert seemed to have the capacity to hurt you. You could be punctured by a thorn, hit by a bush as you rode along, bitten by an insect, or kicked by a horse. Whatever it might be, there was a protective mechanism on almost everything on the ranch.

10 What is it that I learned from that kind of life? Certainly all of us are shaped by our experiences as children. The value system that we learned on the ranch was simple and unsophisticated. What counted there was competence to do whatever was required to keep the ranch in good working order. Verbal skills were less important than the ability to know and understand how things worked in the physical world. Qualities like honesty, discipline and good humor were valued most.

11 The Lazy B Ranch was eventually sold in the early 1990s, and is no longer in our family. But it will always certainly be in my own heart and memory.

12 There was no school nearby so beginning with kindergarten I was sent to live with my maternal grandmother in El Paso, Texas. I attended school there through high school. I then went to Stanford and majored in economics. While an undergraduate, I took a class in law and the professor was highly intelligent and inspiring. He was the first person, in my experience, to urge the notion that an individual can really make a difference in this big world of ours. This is a very big world — billions of people worldwide. Nevertheless, individual qualities of leadership and concern can enable each of us to make a difference. I decided that I would apply to law school at Stanford to see if I could learn to make a difference.

13 I was accepted, much to my surprise. There were not many women in law school in those days. I learned from Mrs Lee Kuan Yew that she attended law school about the same time I did and there were few women in her class also. I assumed that it would be easy to get a job after I graduated. I applied to various law firms in California and I could not get a job. I finally asked an undergraduate friend of mine whose father worked in a big law firm to see if he could get me a job interview. I went to Los Angeles for the interview and we had a pleasant conversation, and finally the partner said, “Miss Day, how do you type?” I said, “fair … not excellent.” He said, “Well, if you type well enough, I can give you a job as a legal secretary.”

14 But this was not what I wanted. I went to see the District Attorney of San Mateo County, California. I heard that he had once had a female lawyer on his staff. We worked out an arrangement and I went to work for him. In those days when...

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