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Wesley Brown, Nation's Oldest Sitting Federal Judge, Dies At 104

Wesley Brown was appointed to the federal bench by President John F. Kennedy in 1962. When he passed the bar in 1933, Franklin Roosevelt was president.

As the Kansas City Star puts it, during his time as federal district judge in Kansas, Brown saw a shift in civil rights, and women's rights. He presided over cases about women in the workplace and tackled privacy issues on the Internet.

"During the 1970s, Brown told a Wichita hospital it couldn't fire a woman because she was single and pregnant and ruled that North High School had to let a girl on its golf team," the Star reports. "During the 1980s, Brown ordered millions of dollars in payments to railroad workers denied promotions because they were Americans of African descent."

Brown, who was known for joking that he was appointed in 1962 "for life or good behavior, whichever ends first," died on Monday. He was 104 and the longest serving federal judge.

The ABA Journal reportsthat Brown was still working up until a month ago. The AP adds:

"'I do it to be a public service,' Brown said in the AP interview. 'You got to have a reason to live. As long as you perform a public service, you have a reason to live.'

"His long tenure on the federal bench surpasses even that of Joseph Woodrough, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eight Circuit who, until Brown, had been the longest practicing judge in the federal judiciary when he died in 1977 shortly after turning 104.

"In recent years, Brown's stooped frame nearly disappeared behind the federal bench during hearings. His gait was slower, but his mind remained sharp as he presided over a tightly run courtroom even after turning 104 last June."

Back in 2010, The New York Times ran a story about Brown and they put his age in perspective. Brown, the Times reports, was old enough "to have been unusually old when he enlisted during World War II." He had lived long enough that one of his former clerks was appointed to the bench to serve with him.

The Times reports that while Brown looked startling on the bench, especially because in recent years he wore an oxygen tube, his mind remained sharp.

In his interview with the Times, Brown was aware of his age. He said that someone his age doesn't pick long cases nor do they buy green bananas. But he also told them he was tired of the attention his age got.

"I'm not interested in how old I am," he told the Times. "I'm interested in how good a job I can do."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.