Justice Michael Sullivan honored during portrait unveiling

May 30, 2002

Colleagues remembered the late Presiding Justice Michael D. Sullivan as a man of wit and wisdom Thursday as they gathered to pay tribute to him and unveil his portrait at the Mississippi Supreme Court in Jackson.

Judge Sebe Dale of Columbia, who followed Sullivan to the 10th Chancery Court bench, recalled his vast knowledge and his ability to cut to the heart of an issue.

"Mike was head and shoulders above everyone else, a man with a tremendous intellect, the keenest mind that I've ever had to deal with. He was my mentor and I was envious of his keen intellect," Dale said. "He taught me much, and there was much more that I could have learned."

"He had a quick mind. He also had a quick tongue. He would put you in your place," Dale said.

Dale, his voice choked with emotion, said Sullivan was, "in spirit, almost like a brother."

Supreme Court Chief Justice Edwin L. Pittman said, "The glue that pulled this court together was Michael Sullivan."

Pittman, Sullivan's former law partner in private practice in Hattiesburg before they became colleagues on the court, said that Sullivan, who would have become chief justice, felt fulfilled in his career although it was cut short.

"The one task that he had not finished and that he regretted was being a father to his children," Pittman said.

Sullivan's four children were guests at the ceremony Thursday. Catherine Sullivan, the late justice's widow, unveiled the portrait, which she gave to the court.

Catherine Sullivan recalled going to see the portrait when Jackson artist Bill Wilson completed it. "When I walked in, I cried," she said.

Justice Pittman, who kept the portrait in his office for the past few weeks before bringing it out for public display, said, "I think every time I looked up, I expected some wit or wisdom from Justice Sullivan."

Former Gov. Bill Allain, who appointed Sullivan to a vacancy on the Supreme Court in 1984, said the portrait captures Sullivan's likeness. But, he said, "Mike painted his own self-portrait, his own inside, in his opinions."

Allain said Sullivan looked for what the Constitution said and what legislators meant when they passed a law, and wrote with brilliance and clarity in his reasoning and expression.

"Mike had no personal agenda," Allain said. "Mike didn't really care what we thought of his opinions."

Allain recalled visiting Sullivan in the hospital shortly before he died on Feb. 27, 2000. Allain said Sullivan was in a hospital bed with legal briefs all around him and was writing an opinion for the court.

"In the last days, he was working, searching for what was right in the law," Allain said.

"Mike not only taught us how to live. He taught us how to die. It's a picture of a man who was dedicated to the law."