Quiet Long Beach has taken the news of his Supreme Court nomination in stride. A recent realty advertisement in the community’s newspaper for a house a few doors down from his boyhood home capitalized on the news.
“Growing up in Long Beach could be your child’s first step toward the Supreme Court!!!” said the ad for a house listed at $449,900. “Only 2 blocks to the great beach at Stop 28 (where John Roberts learned to swim!).”
In announcing his selection to fill the Supreme Court position being vacated by Sandra Day O’Connor last month, President Bush said Judge Roberts had “worked summers in a steel mill to help pay his way through college.”
During at least one summer, Judge Roberts worked temporarily at Burns Harbor through a program that gave jobs to children of plant managers.
John Langley Jr., a schoolmate of Judge Roberts, also worked summers at the plant, although he didn’t work directly alongside the younger Roberts.
“It was labor,” Mr. Langley said of his job, which offered “monster money back in the early ‘70s,” paying about $8.75 an hour for cleaning up industrial waste and other “really nasty jobs” that year-round laborers didn’t want to do.
The jobs presented the prep-schoolers with “just this huge cultural divide,” Mr. Langley said. “We’re all going to private boarding schools, and here you’ve got Bethlehem labor out there. … But they wouldn’t [mess] with you because dad was in management, and they didn’t want to get in trouble for [messing] with management’s kids.”
The summer work might have influenced Judge Roberts, but it was at La Lumiere, the small private school founded in 1963 by Indiana friends and business associates, where his intellect was shaped.
La Lumiere was not tied officially to the Catholic Church, meaning its teachers were not nuns and priests. However, priests visited to celebrate Mass on Sundays. Nestled on a bucolic pond-side campus, the 90 or so boys accepted to the school interacted with the young teaching staff like a tightknit family, former teachers said.
The curriculum was rigorous, and students were expected to participate in sports. In his senior year, Judge Roberts was co-captain of the football team and he won 12 out of 13 matches in the 132-pound weight class as a wrestler.
It was a “very family” community, said Mr. Kirkby, who headed the dorm where Judge Roberts was proctor to other students his senior year. Mr. Kirkby’s wife and 3-year-old daughter, Tricia, lived in a small house connected to the dorm.
“John and the other guys would come around and sit in the living room with her, and she would pour Pepsi into tea cups. … It was her little tea party is what it was,” Mr. Kirkby said. “Those guys were special, because the look on Tricia’s face, she’d just be glowing.”
Judge Roberts had deep friendships with other students, several of whom remember him as their sharpest peer. Although four boys in his class won mention for a single subject, records show that Judge Roberts won “graduation prizes” for chemistry, English, English essay, French, history, history essay, mathematics and theology.
La Lumiere, which is French for “the light,” also marked a key period when he was intimately exposed to children from other backgrounds.
“He was certainly among the brightest of the bright, and I remember him as just a genuinely nice guy. He never wanted to flaunt it,” said Neil A. Barclay, who, as one of the first black students admitted to the school, graduated a year ahead of Judge Roberts in 1972.