Francis J. Lorson, 69

Sat, 02/02/2013 - 3:42pm

Francis J. Lorson, a longtime Southwest Point summer resident and former chief deputy clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court, died January 11, 2013, in Washington D.C.

Lorson was known as the “institutional memory” of the highest court in the land. He worked for the Supreme Court for three decades — from 1972 until his retirement in 2002.

Born in Rochester, N.Y., Lorson grew up on a farm in Penfield, a Rochester suburb.

He took two degrees at the Catholic University of America, earning his AB in 1966 and his JD in 1971. Following law school, Lorson began his career at the U.S. Supreme Court, starting as an assistant clerk in January 1972. He was appointed deputy clerk in April 1974 and finally chief deputy clerk in January 1981.

One of his duties was to escort each new justice into the courtroom for their investiture, from Justice Stevens in 1975 to Justice Breyer in 1994.

Lorson handled many important cases, including the death penalty case of Gary Gilmore, the Iranian assets question, Bush v. Gore, Bakke v. Regents of the University of California, Hogan v. Mississippi State University, United States v. Nixon and Clinton v. Paula Jones.

Writing after Lorson’s passing, Charles Lane of the Washington Post said, “no job title could describe the informal role Frank played as a creative and discreet interpreter of the court’s practices and procedures, hand-holder to nervous lawyers — and friend and confidant of court personnel, up to and including the justices.

“As the court’s institutional memory, Frank was also a great source of information to those of us in the Supreme Court press corps, though he was frustratingly conscientious about never betraying what went on ‘upstairs,’ in the justices’ chambers.”

The memorial service held for Lorson in Washington was attended not only by family and friends, but also the majority of the current Supreme Court.

According to Lane, “they came to pay their respects because, as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. put it in his eulogy: ‘We all needed Frank’s help.’”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke of Lorson’s “reassuring smile” as she prepared to argue before the high court during the 1970s. She shared excerpts from his letters and spoke of his support when she was battling cancer, according to Lane.

Frank was similarly beloved on Block Island, which he first visited with his partner David Seidel in 1968.

They first rented from Billy Lewis on Plover Hill next to the Lewis Farm and became friends with other Lewis Farm renters, including Paul and Ann Taylor and Joe Kastner and his wife. Milton and Betsy Carrow and Edith Blane were also close friends.

In the 1970s they acquired land of their own nearby that had a great view of the sunsets. Frank hosted a constant rotation of cocktail gatherings to honor them.

Longtime family friend Kate Korten remembered that Frank set up his beach chair on same spot just north of state beach for every beach day of his stay. He preferred the later afternoon after the burning hours had passed. “He sat in his beach chair with my mother for 40 years,” Kate said.

Frank loved the Island Free Library. He was a devout Catholic and a generous person. Before he died he made a generous contribution to the Mary D Fund.

He was also known for his loyalty to friends. “Everyone remarked how this important man was never too important for his friends,” Kate said.

Eugene (Geno) Milliken did extensive repairs on Frank’s house. When Geno died unexpectedly in 2007 Frank traveled from Washington to Block Island for his funeral.

Indeed, he was long on ceremony and never missed a funeral or a wedding. “When I was getting married and my mother and I could not agree on who was to conduct the ceremony, Frank took matters into his own hands and got special dispensation from the court for a day so that he could conduct the ceremony,” Kate said.

As Jerry Korten remembered, “His humility and sincere friendship were disarming and none of us knew the extent of his important work he lived in his ‘other’ life (when not on Block Island). All his friends knew him on Block Island as a friend and we had little reminder of the importance of his work as a public servant.”

Frank was predeceased by his parents, John and Catherine Lorson; brother, Charles Lorson; sister, Catherine Smith (husband Frank, deceased). He is survived by his brothers, George (Lorraine) Lorson, brother, John (Pat) Lorson; sister-in-law, Eileen Lorson Atwood; several nieces and nephews.

A funeral mass was celebrated at the Church Of The Assumption Of Our Lady, Fairport, N.Y. Fairport, with internment at St. Mary’s Cemetery, Fairport.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory may be made to the Supreme Court Historical Society, Attn: Director of Development, 224 East Capitol St. SE, Washington, DC 20003 or the Block Island Conservancy at

This obituary was compiled in part with material published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Washington Post and the Catholic University of America’s website.