Celebration of Steffen Graae's Life
By Ellis Wisner
Dear Al and Bob:
I apologize for not writing sooner about the service in celebration of and thanksgiving for the life of Steffen Graae. The service was on October 6, 2005 at 5:00PM in St. Albans Church, which is on the Cathedral Close and lies between the Cathedral and St.Albans School.
The church was filled with friends, with colleagues and, I understand, with those who may not have known Steffen well, but whose lives he had touched. So far as I could tell, substantially all his colleagues from the DC Superior Court and the District court were present in their robes. The officiant, J. Carlyle Gill, the interim Rector of the church, helped keep the service at a dignified yet relaxed pace. Her homily seemed to me both brief and good.
Careful attention was given to the music, from the organ processional and recessional, to instrumental music, and to vocal music. The instrumental music was a movement from Beethoven's String Quartet, Op. 135, a movement from Brahms's String Quartet Op. 51, No. 1,and a movement from Mozart's String Quartet, K 590.
The vocal music was sung by Steffen's daughter, Jessica Winkel Graae, who for some time studied with our classmate John Stewart in St. Louis. She was accompanied by Frank Conlon, who played the organ as well as the piano accompaniment for the songs. Jessica's first offering was "Blute Nur" from Bach's St. Matthew Passion. In her second offering she sang two songs of Gabriel Faure, "Les Berceau" and "Claire de Lune", and in the third, Johannes Brahms's "Immer Leise Wird Mein Schlummer". All the music was dear to Steffen.
Between the pieces of music were a number of remembrances. Two were by his colleagues, the Honorable Rufus G. King III, Chief Judge of the DC Superior Court, and by the Honorable Ricardo M. Urbina of the US District Court. Steffen's law clerk, Brian Fitzpatrick, and his roommate at both Kent School and Yale, William Wheeler, also spoke.
Among the most moving of tributes came from the man who had been given the task of overseeing the DC Housing Authority when Steffen ordered that agency removed for a time from the DC government until it could be operated on a sound basis. It seems that of all Steffen's accomplishments on the bench, this was where he had most clearly touched many, many lives for the better. Steffen's brother also gave a fine tribute, and his sister-in-law read a scriptural passage. And there were moments of silence in which we all had time to reflect.
The service, by combining these elements, struck not simply me, but others I talked with as moving and profound.
Following the service was a reception where I had a chance to see a number of friends, several of whom I had not known were also friends of Steffen. This is partly because I did not really come to know Steffen well until the latter years of his life. And I did get to meet Cynthia and Jessica, whom I had not met in person before.
Ellis's email address is email@example.com.