‘Fulfill Yourself - Find Your Role in This World’
Judge Ruth Cooper Burg continues blazing new trails for women and the law
If you ask Phi Sigma Sigma alumna Ruth Burg what she’s up to these days, you’ll hear how she’s enjoying her retirement years traveling with family to far-flung places like Tanzania and Chile, or spending time fly-fishing with her husband of 40-plus years at their breathtakingly beautiful and serene Montana retreat.
Now in her 80s, she’s as active as ever. And, looking back, she’s happy to share a lifetime of memories that, all told, define what it truly means to be a Phi Sigma Sigma.
For instance, there’s Ruth Burg, the judge – whose career in Washington, D.C., spanned decades and saw many firsts for women in the legal profession:
first woman to graduate top of her class at the Law School of George Washington University (where she had been a member of our Kappa Chapter)
first woman serving as legal assistant to the chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission
first woman appointed an administrative judge on the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals, and
first woman chair of the American Bar Association’s Section of Public Contract Law.
Note that these represent just a few of Ruth’s accomplishments recently celebrated by the American Bar Association, which honored her in 2008 with the highly coveted Margaret Brent Award (so named for America’s first female lawyer).
Then, there’s Ruth Burg, the distinguished Phi Sigma Sigma alumna and beloved past Grand Archon, who shared considerable time and talents – particularly in the ’50s and ’60s – helping our sisterhood grow in the important years after we’d formally joined the National Panhellenic Conference in 1952.
'Aiming High,' her way...
These days when you speak with her, you hear Ruth Burg, the woman – proud wife of world-renowned physician and researcher Maurice "Moe" Burg, mother of four and grandmother of three who has always cherished time spent with family, who knows she’s accomplished so much and recognizes she might possibly have achieved even more if she’d been willing to make certain sacrifices.
When it came to her family, she wasn’t. That was her line in the sand, so to speak. And that’s a message she wants to share with high-achieving women everywhere, notably her Phi Sigma Sigma sisters.
“The goal, as I see it, is to have a fulfilled life – and each of us has to explore and learn what that means for ourselves,” Ruth says. It’s not the same for everyone, she adds – and it doesn’t have to relate solely to professional accomplishments – though she acknowledges women have felt undue pressure to view it that way, especially in the past three decades.
“To me, it’s very important to be happy with who you are and what you have in life, to feel you’re fulfilling your role in this world, whatever you define that to be,” Ruth explains.
Career leader, lifetime mentor
One important way she hopes Phi Sigma Sigmas continue fulfilling and enriching their lives is by mentoring and assisting other women. Ruth’s passion for mentoring goes back to her teens – but especially to those years when she first entered law.
Despite graduating top of her class, she was shunned by the largely male-dominated legal profession. Indeed, had it not been for Phi Sigma Sigma alumnae in Washington, D.C., who saw her incredible potential and gave her a leg up, Ruth may well have faced serious challenges launching her distinguished career.
“It’s one of the reasons I say that, as women, we have a responsibility – even a duty – to help those on the way up,” Ruth explains. She certainly did her part, as the Margaret Brent Award attests. Indeed, upon her retirement, fully six of the 35 judges on the Armed Services Board – where she had once served as its first female judge – were women.
Sisterhood now, sisterhood always
Though not as active in Phi Sigma Sigma these days as she once was, it’s always near to her heart, Ruth says. Her experiences as a collegian at GW, where she was pledge class president and honored as the Phi Sigma Sigma “Outstanding Pledge of the Year,” are among the fondest of her youth. She still keeps close contact with friends from then, and from her years of service to the sisterhood.
These days, she’s thrilled to watch the sorority growing and developing in new ways – including our Foundation’s efforts in recent years to promote awareness of life-giving organ and transplant donations, part of the National Kidney Foundation’s goal in organizing the biennial Transplant Games (of which Phi Sig is a major sponsor and volunteer participant).
Ruth sees us as a sisterhood of promise and progress for the future, and one that’s enriched her life for more than 60 years. “Phi Sigma Sigma is truly a special organization created by women, dedicated to women. For each sister, and especially for me, there’s a bond that exists – and always will.”
Read more about Judge Ruth Cooper Burg:
Ruth Burg's Web site
American Bar Association – Biography of Judge Ruth Cooper Burg
ABA Margaret Brent Award (2008) Video – Ruth Cooper Burg
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