Dignitaries of Virginia politics and law gathered Friday to pay tribute to a man they remembered as a gentle giant of the judiciary.
The flag-draped casket of Harry L. Carrico, former chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court who died last month at 96, lay inside Cannon Memorial Chapel at the University of Richmond during his funeral service on Friday morning.
“He leaves a long shadow,” said Charles S. Russell, a senior justice on the Supreme Court who served with Mr. Carrico. “He was a towering figure in the history of the commonwealth of Virginia.”
About 500 people, including Gov. Bob McDonnell and current Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser, attended the service for Mr. Carrico, the longest-serving justice since the court was reorganized in 1788.
In a ceremony lasting a little more than an hour, several of Mr. Carrico’s colleagues and friends recalled his humor, humanity, devotion to the rule of law and his efforts to modernize Virginia’s legal system in the face of technological and demographic shifts.
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“Without question, the chief justice looked the part,” said former Gov. Gerald L. Baliles. “A distinguished and quiet demeanor. A keen and inquiring mind. Always looking for ways to guide our legal system through the wilderness of change.”
House Speaker William J. Howell, R-Stafford, said he met Mr. Carrico while attending Fairfax High School with Mr. Carrico’s daughter, Lucretia, now a General District Court judge in Petersburg. Decades later, it was Mr. Carrico who swore Howell in as house speaker.
“The law is much larger than any one case or any legal question. It is an institution,” Howell said. “Chief Justice Carrico stood for so much of what is good about that institution.”
David Baldacci, a best-selling author and Richmond native, recalled telling Mr. Carrico about his switch from lawyer to novelist.
“I remember describing to him what I did, that I would sort of sit around and think up these fictional tales,” Baldacci said. “He turned to me and said that, from the bench, he had listened to thousands of them.”
When U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney Jr. rose to speak, he said he had one question for Mr. Carrico’s family: “Does he have a hat on in there?” said Gibney, who at one time worked for Mr. Carrico as a clerk.
Mr. Carrico was known for his fedora, which he would frequently remove in the presence of a woman as a gesture of respect, Gibney said.
“It was a symbol of a time gone by, with a style and gentleness that we don’t know very much about now,” he said of Mr. Carrico’s hat.
The speeches were interspersed with snippets from a video created a few years ago to mark Mr. Carrico’s 50th year with the Supreme Court. On two screens at the front of the chapel, scenes from nearly a century of history and culture mixed with footage of Mr. Carrico telling stories from key moments in his life.
Born in 1916 to a Fauquier County farming family, Mr. Carrico said he chided his parents over the fact that he was actually born in Washington.
“The only mean thing you ever did to me in my whole life was to have me in Washington instead of Virginia,” he remembered telling them.
Mr. Carrico began his judicial career in the juvenile and domestic relations district court in Fairfax County. Coming from the Fairfax Circuit Court, Mr. Carrico joined the Supreme Court in 1961. He became chief justice in 1981 and retired in 2003.
In his retirement, he joined the faculty at the University of Richmond School of Law as a visiting professor of law and civic engagement.
“He understood so well that the formation of character requires more than courses and seminars,” said Wendy Collins Perdue, the dean of the law school. “It’s the one-on-one conversations that truly have the deepest impact.”
Mr. Carrico died Jan. 27 in Richmond. He had been in declining health in recent weeks after returning from a Christmas holiday cruise.
He was expected to be buried at a family plot in Fauquier.
As the video came to a close, Mr. Carrico described his fondness for his home state, saying it has a “sense of integrity” that cannot be found elsewhere.
“There is just something about Virginia that makes her unique,” Mr. Carrico said. “I hope she’ll always be that way.”