A New Page in O'Connors' Love Story

The ex-justice's husband found romance in an Alzheimer's facility.

Nov. 13, 2007— -- Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's husband, who suffers from Alzheimer's, has found a new romance, and his happiness is a relief to his wife, an Arizona TV report reveals.

The report, which quoted the couple's oldest son, Scott O'Connor, focused on Alzheimer's patients who forget their spouses and fall in love with someone else. Experts say the scenario is somewhat common.

Offering a glimpse into the private life of a woman who has remained on the public stage since her Supreme Court retirement in 2006 to care for her husband, the report spotlighted John O'Connor, 77. He and the woman, referred to only as "Kay," live at a Phoenix facility for people with Alzheimer's.

"Mom was thrilled that Dad was relaxed and happy and comfortable living here and wasn't complaining," Scott, 50, told KPNX-Channel 12 in Phoenix in a story that aired Thursday. The station is owned by Gannett, as is USA TODAY.

Though Sandra Day O'Connor, 77, did not appear in the television report, it gave a rare look at the life of the nation's first female justice. The family's willingness to highlight an aspect of a heart-wrenching illness recalled O'Connor's decision in 1994 to go public with her feelings about breast cancer.

In a speech to the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, she spoke about discovering the cancer in 1988 and undergoing a mastectomy.

Scott compared his father to "a teenager in love" and said, "For Mom to visit when he's happy … visiting with his girlfriend, sitting on the porch swing holding hands," was a relief after a painful period.

The O'Connors, who have three children, met at Stanford Law School and married in 1952. John O'Connor left a partnership at a Phoenix law firm to come to Washington with his wife in 1981. He worked for D.C. law firms but was limited in his ability to take on matters that could come before the justices.

As her husband's disease became more difficult to handle, O'Connor retired.

She was traveling Monday and could not be reached for comment.

Peter Reed, senior director of programs at the Alzheimer's Association in Chicago, said the frequency of Alzheimer's patients forming new romantic relations is hard to estimate. "But the underlying causes of this are fairly common," he said. Though patients lose their cognitive abilities and experience mood changes, "one of the things that doesn't go away is the need for relationships."

"Justice O'Connor is certainly to be commended for … raising awareness and helping to reduce stigmas," he said.

Lisa O'Toole, manager at the center where John O'Connor resides, said the facility participated in the TV report "to educate the public about the disease process."

Reed said 5 million Americans have the progressive brain disease that affects memory and behavior.