Nealon Remembered As Devoted Jurist, Family Man
SCRANTON — Led by their matriarch, William J. Nealon’s large family followed the U.S. senior district judge’s casket through the doors of his home parish — where the judge was baptized 95 years ago and where his life as a jurist, father, husband and friend was celebrated Friday.
An American flag and a depiction of the Virgin Mary stood near where Jean Nealon, the judge’s devoted wife of 70 years, and their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren took their seats in the first several pews at Nativity of Our Lord Church on Orchard Street. Red roses adorned an altar at the head of the church, below a statue of Jesus Christ.
Nealon, the nation’s longest-serving federal district judge and longest-serving federal judge in a single court appointment, passed away Aug. 30, just two days after achieving both longevity records. The milestones are a testament to the resolve and commitment to public service of the man that hundreds of mourners filled the church to honor, among them U.S. Senator Bob Casey and fellow federal jurists on the Middle District of Pennsylvania bench.
Describing the judge as a faithful man who displayed “rugged independence” and “intellectual honesty,” Monsignor Joseph G. Quinn in his homily said Nealon embodied the idea that “to lead is to serve, to serve is to lead.”
As one of Nealon’s former law clerks, Quinn spoke from experience of how he displayed the same attitude of fairness and respect toward all he encountered, whether they were on trial, on a jury or arguing a case before him. It was that decorum and commitment to the law that Casey recalled prior to the funeral service.
“He was the model jurist in so many ways,” Casey said. “Someone who is not just committed to justice and capable in the way that he’s dispensed justice, but also someone who I think was an example for those who are working within our justice system, no matter what role you play. We all learned from him, and we hope we can emulate his service and emulate his commitment to equal justice under law.”
Both Quinn and Lackawanna County Judge Terrence Nealon, who delivered a message honoring his late father on behalf of the family, spoke of the judge’s unfailing love for his wife. While Nealon would affectionately refer to any of the couple’s 10 children as “our” — “our Terry,” for example — Quinn said he always referred to his wife as “my Jean.”
The husband and wife functioned as one for 70 years, Terrence Nealon said after sharing the story of his parents’ first date decades ago, shortly after the late judge’s brother and fellow Marine, Bob Nealon, was killed on Okinawa during World War II. Their first date ended on Jean’s front porch, with Nealon reading a poem he wrote for his mother, Ann, following his brother’s death.
The poem ends with the lines:
“So close your eyes, my darling and smile & I’ll smile too; then till we meet in heaven I’ll think of you!”
Nealon amassed many honors while in pursuit of the longevity records he earned last month, from being named the 1983 Outstanding Federal Trial Judge by the Association of Trial Lawyers of America to having the William J. Nealon Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Scranton named in his honor in 1996. Still, Terrence Nealon said that, in recent years, his father would sometimes wonder aloud what his legacy would be and how he would be remembered.
The younger Judge Nealon answered the question shortly before his father was laid to rest in Scranton’s Cathedral Cemetery.
“Well Dad, rest assured that you leave behind a legacy of lasting impact on so many,” he said. “A legacy of example and character and faith for your children, your grandchildren and your great grandchildren. A legacy of immeasurable contributions to justice and to your community, and a legacy of the remarkable story of your life that is etched in the minds and hearts of all those who you have touched and helped along the way.”
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