They set flags to half-staff across the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September — and lowered them again 11 days later to honor Rebecca Cryer, a tribal judge who led a purposeful, parallel life in the law.
Cryer was confined to a hospital bed with the new Coronavirus, trying to manage her docket for the Choctaw Tribal Court on a smartphone, when she heard that Ginsburg had died.
She took it hard, yet not without wit. Cryer, who combined black-robe rectitude with deadpan humor, sent photographic portraits of herself to a friend just in case President Donald Trump chose her to replace Ginsburg on the US Supreme Court. She wanted to make sure that she’d look presentable.
“She was texting me all these shots and kept asking, ‘Which one of these hairdos would Trump like best?’” the friend, Pam Young, a judicial administrator, said in a phone interview. “That was her. She was tough. She was funny. There were so many similarities between her and Justice Ginsburg — they really held their own in a male-dominated world.”
Cryer died of the virus Sept. 29 at Norman Regional Hospital in Norman, Oklahoma, according to her family. She was 73.
She had led a blended life in the law, modulating between legal work for the state and tribal justice — at times traveling the country to advise poorly funded native courts, where US jurisprudence meets an imperative to preserve native customs.
One of her state jobs was as a trial lawyer for the Oklahoma Department of Securities. On the morning of April 19, 1995, she was leafing through a folder of papers on the fifth floor of a building across the street from the nine-story Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City when, at 9:02, a truck bomb exploded outside, shattering her windows and covering her with debris.
Lying there, in shock, she could hear the “sound of sirens and children crying” on the street below, she later told a friend.
The bomb, set off by an ex-Army soldier turned terrorist, Timothy McVeigh, destroyed a third of the Murrah building and killed 168 people, including 19 children. (McVeigh was executed in 2001.)
Cryer’s cuts were so severe that they required 100 stitches, and her legs were so bruised and her lungs so choked with dust that she required hospitalization days after returning home.
Rebecca Alice Schoemann was born on Oct. 9, 1946, in Shawnee, Oklahoma, the daughter of DeLaine and Frances F. (Forrester) Schoemann. Her father ran a lumber mill, and her mother worked various jobs — managing a motel was one — to make ends meet while raising four children.
Cryer, whose ancestors were members of the Pottawatomie tribe, grew up in Wanette, a one-stoplight town an hour’s drive southeast of Oklahoma City.
That is where she met David Cryer, in high school. They married when she was 18 and had a son. David Cryer was in the Army, and the family bounced among Army posts.
Rebecca Cryer enrolled in college courses whenever she could. The family eventually settled in Norman, where she earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Oklahoma. She graduated from the law school there in 1977 after giving birth to a daughter.
She is survived by her husband; her daughter, Aimie Black; her sons, Eric and Andrew; her sisters, Gloria Shallcross and Rebecca Page; a brother, Dee Martin Schoemann; and five grandchildren.