I was so saddened to learn of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing last Friday, September 18. Justice Ginsburg was 87 years old and passed away due to complications from metastatic pancreatic cancer. Her life’s work was defending those who were marginalized by outdated, discriminatory laws, and her tireless determination took her all the way to the Supreme Court, where she served nearly up to the day she died. Today and tomorrow, Justice Ginsburg will return to the courthouse for the last time, to lie in repose as we honor her and pay our last respects.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1933. As the daughter of a Jewish Ukrainian father and a mother born in New York to Polish immigrant parents, Ruth did not grow up with wealth and privilege but was actively encouraged by her parents to pursue education and academics.
Her life was not easy, yet she persevered through any adversity that faced her. She lost her mother right before her high school graduation. She faced terrible gender discrimination as a law student at Cornell, Harvard, and Columbia, and throughout her career as well. While in law school, her husband became ill with cancer and she took on her studies, his studies, cared for him, and took care of their baby. There were many nights when she slept only two or three hours before waking up to do it all over again. She bravely faced cancer of her own multiple times and continued to work through it all. Even when her husband Marty – the great love of her life – passed away, she returned to her seat at the Supreme Court the next day.
The incessant efforts that Justice Ginsburg put forth were not for her own benefit, but rather for ours. As she once said, “To make life a little better for people less fortunate than you, that’s what I think a meaningful life is. One lives not just for oneself but for one’s community.” This attitude is part of what made her such an effective and vital fixture on the Supreme Court. She wholly devoted herself to furthering equality, particularly gender equality, for all people because she believed it would serve a greater common good.
It is no wonder to me that she later became known as The Notorious RBG. She was the second woman to be nominated to the highest court in our country’s federal judiciary, and we have her to thank for many crucial, historic laws that protect the rights and freedoms of people, especially women, who face discrimination. Ruth Bader Ginsburg appreciated the “notorious” description given her and was proud of it. She was known for several quotes that many of us appreciated and memorized, such as:
- “The pedestal upon which women have been placed has all too often, upon closer inspection, been revealed as a cage.”
- “I ask no favor for my sex. All I ask of my brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.”
- “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
For many women in particular, part of what made RBG such an important figure was her relatability. For every endearing quality she possessed, for every struggle she encountered, and for every hat she wore, a piece of her represented every woman. Talking about Justice Ginsburg reminds me of my own mother, who was born November 29, 1922 and died December 29, 2016. I am not assured that my own mother would have liked for me to use Ginsburg’s example of her life but in my heart, I always knew my mother was honest, strong and committed to being the best she could be as a mother, teacher, primary librarian and grandmother. She led by example, as did Justice Ginsburg, to the benefit of those whose lives she touched.
The people that stand straight, give their best, and accept responsibility are the people who truly make a difference. Ruth Bader Ginsburg had done her work and now she rests. Leaders who make a difference do that.
May her memory be a blessing.
© Tyra Manning 2020