Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, Who Led Liberal Wing, Dies at 99 – The New York Times
Rooted in Chicago
That university was his alma mater, and his family had deep roots in Chicago. John Paul Stevens was born there on April 20, 1920, and grew up in a Georgian-style house in the Hyde Park neighborhood. He was the fourth son and youngest child of Ernest James Stevens, a wealthy businessman with interests in real estate and insurance, and the former Elizabeth Street, an English teacher.
In 1909 his grandfather James W. Stevens, an ambitious and successful financier, had built what was then Chicago’s biggest hotel, the LaSalle. His appetite whetted, the older Stevens then formed the family-owned Stevens Hotel Company to build and operate the world’s biggest hotel, a blocklong, 28-story, 3,000-room behemoth on Michigan Avenue that opened in 1927 as the Stevens Hotel.
Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart were among the many celebrities the young John Paul Stevens met there. Those early encounters may have inspired him; he became an avid pilot himself, flying his single-engine Cessna 172 around the Midwest for many years.
The Depression ended his grandfather’s dream in a disastrous way. Not only did the family lose the hotel, which was eventually bought by Conrad Hilton and stands today as the Hilton Chicago, but John’s grandfather, father and uncle were indicted by a Cook County grand jury on charges of looting the family’s insurance business in a failed effort to keep the hotel afloat. Facing extreme stress, his grandfather had a severe stroke, while his uncle, Raymond Stevens, fell into a depression and committed suicide.
Only Justice Stevens’s father went to trial, and he was convicted in 1933 of embezzling $1.3 million. The conviction was overturned the next year by the Illinois Supreme Court, which decided that Ernest Stevens’s actions had not amounted to a crime; he had used bad judgment, the court said, but had acted in good faith in trying to save the hotel, without intending either to commit fraud or to enrich himself.
With his father making a modest living managing a hotel for someone else, John attended the University of Chicago, where he majored in English and edited the newspaper. He graduated in 1941 as a member of Phi Beta Kappa and winner of the university’s highest honors for scholarship and student activities.
He was commissioned as an officer in the Navy on Dec. 6, 1941, the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He spent most of his Navy service, which lasted until 1945, stationed at Pearl Harbor working on breaking Japanese codes, for which he was awarded the Bronze Star.