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When Justice Harry Blackmun retired in 1994 and died in 1999, many of the articles about him repeated the oft-quoted label once applied to Blackmun by “A Prairie Home Companion” radio host Garrison Keillor: “The shy person’s justice.” But based on Blackmun’s file at the Library of Congress, Blackmun was anything but shy about his fondness for the show, for Keillor, and for all things relating to Minnesota Public Radio, which produces the show. Blackmun’s hometown pride shows through for the radio phenomenon that may have done more than anything or anyone else to publicize St. Paul, Minn., where the show is usually taped. The 13 file folders in the collection about “A Prairie Home Companion” are full of correspondence and memorabilia, including an Oct. 17, 1981, ticket stub for a taping of the show Blackmun attended. Whenever the show came to Washington, D.C., Blackmun was there, and he even organized a reception for Keillor at the Court in 1982. Surprisingly little of the correspondence is from Keillor himself, except for a 1993 postcard thanking Blackmun for arranging seating in the Court for an oral argument. Much of Blackmun’s correspondence about the show was not with Keillor but with Sally Pope, then vice president of Minnesota Public Radio, whose production arm, American Public Media, produces and distributes the show. In 1981, Blackmun wrote her that a Powder Milk Biscuit T-shirt she had sent him as a souvenir of the show was “worn proudly” by the justice during a summer trip to Wisconsin. In another letter to Pope, Blackmun reports that his law clerks, even those with an East Coast bent, are big fans. Blackmun wrote, “I am doing my best to whomp up a bunch of new fans for you.” Pope, now retired, says her friendship with Blackmun was wonderful and surprising. “Who would have predicted that a youngish woman in Minnesota would have a friendship with a Supreme Court justice?” At first the letters were about the radio show and official matters, but over the years it evolved into warm correspondence about family, friends and even pets. She sent him a photograph of her pet goat which she named Harry “with his permission.” The photo is in Blackmun’s file. “He told me that when people were passing around family pictures, he would slip in the picture of Harry,” she recalled. Pope says she had the sense that Blackmun had several friends around the country he would correspond with “for a dose of reality” outside the Beltway. “It was so important to him to not just breathe the air of the Court,” she says. Occasionally he would call her “on a day when he felt beleaguered.” The friendship with Blackmun turned into the best part of her career at Minnesota Public Radio, says Pope. “He became family. It is a very happy memory.”

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