THERE'S AN an old saying that behind every great man is a great woman.

Apart from its obvious sexist slant, there was considerable truth to the maxim in the case of former Pennsylvania Chief Justice Robert N.C. Nix Jr. and his wife, German-born Renate Elizabeth Nix.

"She was very supportive of him," said her daughter, Kimberly Bernhard. "She was the backup."

She traveled with her husband on his many trips on judicial business, took care of the entertainment, and generally helped ease the burdens of his presiding over the state's highest court.

She was the gatekeeper when he worked from their home in West Mount Airy, and at his office in their summer home in Cape May.

"She was a very devoted wife," her daughter said.

Renate Nix died Saturday of respiratory complications. She was 74.

She was also very supportive of her children and grandchildren; knitted clothing, often of her own design, for herself and the offspring, and crocheted blankets and bedspreads. She also was a mainstay of her church, and a talented artist who used oil and watercolor to produce landscapes that she gave to family and friends.

Renate was born in Neustadt, Germany, to Franz and Elizabeth Beckert. She was studying medicine at a university in Freiburg when she met Dempsey Bryant, who was in Germany on an assignment from the U.S. Defense Department. They met at a party and were married in Germany in 1960.

After arriving back in the States with Bryant, Renate taught French and ballet for a time at a Montessori school. Bryant died in 1987.

About a year later, she was shopping at a market in Chestnut Hill when Robert Nix, who was then chief justice, happened by. They were introduced by a friend and there was instant mutual attraction. They were married in 1989.

Nix spent 24 years on the state Supreme Court, appointed by Gov. Milton Shapp in 1971, and became chief justice in 1984, the first African-American chief justice in the country. He died in 2003.

Renate was an active member of St. Madeline Sophie Church, where she was always available for whatever the church needed.

"She was very animated, very outgoing," her daughter said. "She was a sweet-natured and giving person, always concerned about other people's needs."

Besides her daughter, she is survived by a son, Timothy Bryant; two sisters, Gerda Ganter and Christa Fenal; and two grandchildren.

Services: Funeral Mass 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Madeline Sophie Church, Upsal and Greene streets. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Cheltenham. n

Contact John F. Morrison at 215-854-5573 or morrisj@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @johnfmorrison.