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When Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993, like most people, I didn’t know much about her, but I was very proud that she would be the second woman in history to serve on our country’s highest court.
What I would come to learn during her 27 years on the bench was that more than being a woman, Ginsburg’s determination, strength and wisdom lead to her countless accomplishments and iconic status. Sadly, RBG passed away last Friday at age 87 from complications of pancreatic cancer, leaving behind a legacy of successes driven by her loves and loyalties. Here are some examples:
Ginsburg is most known for the work she did to support women’s rights, her advocacy for gender equality, and her contribution to the American Civil Liberties Union. According to an article on Biography.com, during the 1970s, Ginsburg founded the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union, for which she argued six landmark cases on gender equality before the U.S. Supreme Court.
A 56-year marriage
Martin and Ruth met when the two were college students at Cornell University. In a 2016 interview on NPR, Ginsburg said, “Marty Ginsburg was the first boy I met who cared that I had a brain.” The two became close friends for a long time before their relationship turned romantic. As a married couple, they were known for being a team, with Ginsburg saying in many interviews that her husband made it clear that her career was just as important as his. Just before Marty died in 2010, he wrote a letter to his wife with this statement in it: “You are the only person I have loved in my life.” RBG said of her husband, “He was always my biggest booster.”
Being a mom
Not only was Ginsburg a working mom, she was a happy working mom. A law student with a 14-month-old baby, Ginsburg said in a 2017 interview for The Atlantic, “I think I had better balance, better sense of proportions of what matters. I felt each part of my life gave me respite from the other.” Ginsburg is survived by her daughter, Jane, a professor at Columbia Law School, her son, James, the owner of a recording company in Chicago. She also has four grandchildren, and one great grandchild. In a 2014 interview with Katie Couric, Ginsburg said, “You can’t have it all at once, but over my life span, I think I have had it all.”
With her own personal #MeToo story, Ginsburg was a staunch supporter of the movement. In 2018, she gave a speech to a group of law students at Georgetown University, sharing her story about being a student at Cornell and putting up with the advances of a teaching assistant.
An unusual friendship
Ginsburg and the late Justice Antonin Scalia were polar opposites when it came to politics. But surprisingly, they were dear friends. That should be a lesson to all of us on the importance of being able to disagree on issues, respect other’s opinions and not let it get in the way of friendships. The two traveled together and shared a love of opera.
Ginsburg is considered to have been instrumental in the supreme court’s decision of Obergefell v. Hodges, a 2015 case in which a number of same sex couples sued their respective states for banning same sex marriages. The ruling paved the way for legalization of same sex marriage in all 50 states.
It’s not surprising that Ginsburg won many, many awards, some that resulted in large financial gifts. What is noteworthy is that she gave her winnings away. Two examples include her 2019 $1 million dollar Berggruen award for her work in philosophy and culture, which she donated to charity, and an award in 1996 for $100,000 which she gave to schools and civil rights organizations.
Neither chemotherapy nor the death of her husband kept Ginsburg away from the bench too long. In 1999, after being diagnosed with colon cancer, Ginsburg is quoted as saying, “Justice O’Connor had set the model. She had breast surgery and she was on the bench nine days after her surgery. She said, ‘Now, Ruth, have your chemotherapy on a Friday. That way, you have the weekend to get over it.’” In 2010, the day after her husband died, Ginsburg was back at work. “Marty would have wanted it,” she said.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg isn’t just an inspiration for women, she’s a role model for anyone who values the courage to fight for change and the wisdom to respect those who might not share your opinion. I can’t think of a better time to live by these values, given the extreme polarization of politics in the U.S. right now. In other words, love and loyalty are the motivators that pave the way for change, harmony and peace.
In closing, here are five of my favorite Ruth Bader Ginsburg quotes:
“If you have a caring life partner, you help the other person when that person needs it. I had a life partner who thought my work was as important as his, and I think that made all the difference for me.”
“Don’t be distracted by emotions like anger, envy, resentment. These just zap energy and waste time.”
“I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.”
“Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”
“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”
Justice Bader Ginsburg, rest in peace. Thank you for your incredible service.
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- ‘Notorious RBG’: A Love Letter to Ruth Bader Ginsburg Arrives in Chicago
Jackie Pilossoph is a former television journalist and newspaper features reporter. The author of four novels and the writer of her weekly relationship column, Love Essentially, Pilossoph is also the creator of the divorce support website, Divorced Girl Smiling. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism and lives in Chicago with her two teenagers.