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Judge Jack Ruffin remembered as "pioneer" in community

News 12 at six o'clock -- January 30, 2010

AUGUSTA, Ga.--- Judge John "Jack" Ruffin died of a heart attack at age 75 after collapsing Friday at his home in Atlanta. He was Augusta's first African-American superior court judge and played a role in many civil rights milestones.

Judge Ruffin was recognized as a pillar in the community and those who remember him say it was his accomplishments that paved the way for so many others.

"Jack Ruffin was a pioneer. He had the respect of all around him," remembers his long time friend, David Bell.

"He was the face of the civil rights movement in this area for so many years," recalls U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver. "He had a tremendous impact on the community."

News reached Augusta early Saturday morning about the death of 75-year-old Judge Jack Ruffin. He died of a heart attack Friday after collapsing at his home in Atlanta.

Judge Ruffin was born and raised in Waynesboro, Georgia. After attending college at Morehouse and law school at Howard University, he returned to Georgia to make his home and his mark in Augusta.

U.S. Attorney Ed Tarver says he owes his career to the barriers broken down by Judge Ruffin.

"From my perspective, it all started with Jack Ruffin," says Tarver. "If you look around the community, you can't go anyplace where you don't see something that may have started with Jack Ruffin and his efforts."

Judge Ruffin was the first black member of the Augusta Bar Association, and argued countless cases for civil rights. The most notable may be Acree v. Board of Education, the case desegregating Richmond County schools.

David Bell, his long time friend and colleague, remembers him as an inspiration.

"He always leaned to the law and tried to do what was right," says Bell. "He practiced law with quality and dignity."

In 1986, he was appointed Augusta's first African-American superior court judge. He retired from the bench in 2008 as a judge for the Georgia Court of Appeals. He served for several years as chief judge on that court -- again, the first African-American to do so.

In 2008, he thanked Augusta for the outpouring of support during his retirement:

"This is something I could not have predicted in my farthest dreams. I am very grateful to the community."

And later, another honor: a new courthouse still in the works, to be named after him.

"Judge Ruffin has always been the symbol of what we could attain," remembers Tarver. "I think it's significant that we had a chance to benefit from all that he bought to the table, and I'm sure he will be tremendously missed."

News 12 spoke with several people today who knew him well and are shocked by the news. County Commissioner Corey Johnson says people were blessed to have him in Augusta for the time he lived here. He adds that Judge Ruffin transitioned the city to the next level and will truly be missed.

One friend even said he recently had lunch with Judge Ruffin, who said he had plans to move back to Augusta and work with at risk youth.

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