An invitation to dinner was something former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor must have received thousands of during her lifetime.

As the first woman on the U.S. Supreme Court – and a trailblazer in so many other facets – it’s easy to see why so many people, young and old alike, would be eager to be in the presence of such greatness.

But one time, the former justice got an invite from an Arizona professor and ended up getting a lot more than she bargained for.

Former University of Arizona Professor James Todd was a close friend of Justice O’Connor’s, meeting her just a matter of weeks after she stepped down from the U.S. Supreme Court in 2006. From there, the two would build a close friendship that would take them across the country and to all corners of the globe.

Scaling the highest peaks – not just in her professional life, but also her personal life – was normal for Justice O’Connor.

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“She was quite happy and loved challenges and loved something new,” said Todd. “She was always interested in doing something new and expanding her horizons.”

Todd was with Justice O’Connor during one of those important bucket-list moments for the Supreme Court trailblazer – getting to see Machu Picchu in 2012 when she was 82 years old.

“We talk about ‘renaissance man,’ but she was really a ‘renaissance woman,’ and she was good company,” explained Todd.

In February 2006, a month after she officially retired from our nation’s high court, he invited Justice O’Connor to come speak to his students at a special dinner he was hosting. It was something the former University of Arizona professor had done before with another Supreme Court mainstay: former Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

In the case of Justice O’Connor, he said he drove to the hotel where she and her husband were staying, picked them up for dinner, and had a conversation about, of all things, birdwatching – something both Todd and the Justice had in common – and it would be the beginning of a very close friendship.

“She was just great fun. She had an outgoing personality and a wonderful sense of humor and she had no airs!”

He described Justice O’Connor as incredibly humble despite the monumental achievements of her career.

“I think that was partly because of the way she grew up,” James explained. “On the ranch, she was expected to do a lot of work. And she enjoyed the work and I think she grew up thinking of herself as not anybody special.”

But of course, she was somebody very special to Todd, the students who got to meet her during that dinner, and the other events he hosted with students when he later moved to teach at the University of Virginia.

“The women students were so touched…a number of them just started to cry. She had that kind of impact on people.”

Todd also mentioned how much he respected Justice O’Connor and the relationship she had with her husband, who passed away from Alzheimer’s in 2009 the same disease that would claim her life more than a decade later.

He recalled hearing stories about the very active couple who had a love of dancing (and people clearing out the dance floor just to watch the two when they’d go out).

But perhaps her greatest legacy was her ability to build bridges, to connect, and to find compromise, said Todd. He credits the time she spent as a legislator (the first female Arizona Senate Majority leader) with giving her the ability to build consensus – something that seems harder and harder to find in Washington these days.

If bringing people together is part of anyone’s legacy, it’s a job well done. For Justice O’Connor, it was just one of many feathers in her hat, capping off 93 years of grace and grit that forever changed our nation.