Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has died at the age of 79. His name completes the triumvirate that has dominated the Republican Revolution of the past four decades. It was Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich and Antonin Scalia. President Reagan provided the inspiration. Gingrich rebuilt a Congressional majority. But Scalia represented the intellectual heft. Regardless of your political persuasion, Scalia was a giant. Anyone who doubted this only had to listen to the release of small parts of the Court’s debate over the results of the 2000 election. He was a force of nature on the bench.

Justice Scalia was often irascible and did not suffer fools. He provided the bad guy image that liberals loved to hate. He was source of the conspiracy and the embodiment of evil among those with whom he disagreed. And, unlike any man who has had to run for office and negotiate with an opposition, Scalia did not seem to care very much about his public image. His conservative ideology and his mastery of the Constitution were enough to guide him through his every decision. Those who worked with him were in awe of the depth and breadth of his knowledge and his ability to articulate his words as both a professor of law and as a son of an Italian immigrant from Trenton, New Jersey.

I never met him face-to-face but I spoke with him once. I was sitting in the office of a mutual friend, Fred Rotundaro, then executive director of the National Italian American Federation in Washington. Rotundaro got a call from the Justice and no one can turn that down. They talked and he asked permission to put the Justice on speaker. For the next few minutes I was regaled by stories of fishing, hunting and great Italian food. The man was fascinating and was very human. Rotundaro was once a professor of the classics just like Scalia’s father. And both loved the fine art of Italian cooking. Scalia was a wonderful cook and one of his frequent house guests was his very liberal Supreme Court colleague (and neighbor) Ruth Bader Ginsberg and her husband. They both loved opera and had a kinship with each other — born out of so much more than being on the high Court. They were ethnic kids who triumphed in a nation that allowed that to happen.

And the Supreme Court Justice knew my name and respected my work. The Italian kid from New Jersey appreciated the Lebanese kid Upstate New York. Wow.

Justice Scalia: I honestly did not agree with many of your decisions. But what does that matter? You were smart and fun — a Renaissance man who graced the United States Supreme Court longer than anyone else. You got there because you belonged there. Rest in peace. You done good.

Justice Scalia was once quoted in an interview as saying he focused on his schoolwork because he “was never cool.” That is one time he really got it wrong. He may have been wrong, in the eyes of many, but he was always cool.