Published: Sep 03, 2008 11:00 AM
Modified: Sep 03, 2008 11:00 AM
Susie Sharp: An amazing private life revealed
One on One
Will a wonderful book about a North Carolina hero get lost in scandal? As we have learned so recently and so painfully, the smoke that rises out of the fires blot out the career of a political figure and cover up mountains of achievement and ambition. The new book is Without Precedent by Anna Hayes. The North Carolina hero justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court and the first woman elected to the chief justice position in the United States. The book reveals for the first time surprising details of Judge Susies private life. Had these facts, or even a small sampling of them been known during her lifetime, the resulting scandal would have made the recent unpleasant disclosures about former Senator John Edwards seem like minor matters by comparison. Thankfully, the extracurricular activities of Judge Susie were not made public until now. Were it not for the 10-year-long research and reading efforts of Anna Hayes, these facts might never have come to light. She combed through the boxes and boxes of Sharps voluminous papers, her letters, and her diaries. Sharp had cut out many passages, sometimes just a few words or sentences. These were presumably details about the actions and feelings that surrounded her active love life. However, her efforts to conceal the facts from anyone who might read her papers did not succeed. There was just too much. What she missed cutting out was left for the persistent Hayes to find. Hayess efforts were also complicated by Sharps shorthand skill, which was mandatory for women in her day. She kept important parts of her private diaries and notes in shorthand. To access them, Hayes took two years to learn to read Sharps brand of shorthand. There is a happy consequence that these new facts about Sharp remained private for such long time. Otherwise, this extremely accomplished and hard-working jurist might never have become the leader of the North Carolina court system at a crucial time. North Carolina would have lost the great benefits it gained from the major role she played pushing through important court reforms and reorganization. And the women of North Carolina and the country would have had to do without the positive example of Sharp as an example of a woman who could crash through the top of the highest glass ceiling and excel. All of us might have missed the story of a young woman lawyer, as she tried cases before juries in a time when women were not allowed to serve on those panels. Nor would we know about the first woman superior (trial) court judge in North Carolina as she presided in courthouses where access to the judges quarters were through the mens room. All these stories, and many others that show the positive contributions of Sharp to her state and her family, are now recounted vividly by Hayes. But we have them only because Sharps private life remained private. Now, thanks also to Hayes, we have the shockingly interesting details of her longstanding and concurrent love affairs with three married North Carolina lawyers. For these provocative details you will have to read Without Precedent. When you read it, do not let the smoke of the nowpublic scandal hide the mountains of this extraordinary womans accomplishments.
D.G. Martin is the host of UNCTVs North Carolina Bookwatch, which airs Fridays at 9:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m. Check his blog and view prior programs at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch/
2008 The Chapel Hill News