RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And for more memories of life-long friendships, we turn now to our own Nina Totenberg, NPR's legal affairs correspondent - reminds us that history is made right before our eyes if we will just look and listen.

NINA TOTENBERG: Last week, I had an epiphany. Twice, I got goose bumps sitting in the audience at an event and realized that I have been lucky enough to know, in one case for a lifetime, someone who had contributed so much to American life.

This is a country that generally values youth and the here and now. History is something for school books. But if you look around, you may find a so-called old person who has been a figure of great consequence in the development of this nation's government, or its scientific life, or its culture.

Last Thursday, I went to the portrait hanging of Federal Judge Louis Oberdorfer, who, at 89, still sits as a district judge on the federal court here in Washington. It's a job he has performed with great distinction for 30 years. At the ceremony, his colleagues and clerks told the story of his life and I realized that I knew only a fraction of his contributions.

An Alabamian, Oberdorfer was already a rising legal star in 1961 when he became assistant attorney general for the tax division in the Kennedy administration. He soon found himself assigned tasks that ran well beyond his tax job.

In 1962, for instance, he found himself at Kennedy's direction, facing down anti-integration rioters at the University of Mississippi and managing a secret operation to free prisoners from the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba.

Hearing this tales last week reminded me of the many hours I used to spend with the late Justices William Brennan and Lewis Powell after their retirements from the Supreme Court. Each had lived through momentous times on and off the court. And after their retirements, they had time to talk. Those conversations taught me more about the law, how to approach it in turbulent times and more about how judges think than anything I have ever done.

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It was with these thoughts in the back of my mind that I slipped into a seat at the National Symphony Orchestra concert last Friday night to hear a beautiful rendition of the Beethoven Violin Concerto.

Imagine my amazement when I looked down at my program. The orchestra's first performance of this work it said was on November 7th, 1935, and the artist was Roman Totenberg, my father.

What a life he's had. He debuted as a soloist for the Warsaw Philharmonic at age 11, and that concert here in Washington was his American debut. He was 24, had come over here on a boat using the long journey to learn English for his American tour. Not long before he played for the king of Italy, where a protocol required that when he finished performing, he literally had to back off the stage, keeping his face to the king.

Here, he was invited to the White House. And after playing for President Roosevelt, he was invited to the residence where Mrs. Roosevelt, seated on the floor before a coffee table, served him dinner.

Reflecting on the difference, he said to himself, this is the country for me. At nearly 97, he is still teaching the next generation of violinists at Boston University.

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This is Nina Totenberg, and that's my father playing the Beethoven Violin Concerto on a 1992.

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MONTAGNE: To hear more of Nina's father playing Beethoven and discover more classical music and profiles, visit our new expanded music site at npr.org/music.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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