RBG and her five-year-old pen pal

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court justice who rose to pop culture icon status as the “Notorious RBG,” was a lifetime champion for equal opportunity but she was also known as a kind, compassionate human being. That kindness made her recent loss palpable to Mark Shavin, a former UGA visiting faculty member, and his family.

In 1996, Shavin’s five-year-old daughter Naomi wrote to Ginsburg as one in a series of letters she wrote to a variety of people. It seemed Naomi had a lot of questions, and her parents started her letter writing as a means of asking the people who might have the answers.

“The most important lesson was teaching her to write letters,” recalls Mark Shavin, then an executive producer for WAGA-TV in Atlanta. “Once she had mastered her ABC’s and begun to write words, it occurred to me that she could string those words together into sentences and even write letters to get answers to her many questions.”

In laborious, hand-scrawled letters, Naomi asked Ginsburg, who shared her grandmother’s first name, two questions: if she was in charge of all the people in the U.S. and if she ever made a mistake.

Ginsburg’s warm response fanned Naomi’s desire for answers, a love of writing, and ultimately a career path to journalism.

The Shavins later met the justice at a couple of speaking engagements in Atlanta, including at their synagogue, where Ginsburg extended an invitation to call on her if they ever visited D.C. Seven years after that fateful letter, Justice Ginsburg kept her promise. Twelve-year-old Naomi and her family met RBG in her personal chambers.

Naomi, now a 29-year-old Washington-based journalist at Axios, followed in the writing footsteps of her grandfather, as well as her father Mark, who has had a lengthy career in broadcast journalism. He now teaches journalism at Georgia State University while writing a book on memory loss.

Although the Shavins are deeply saddened by RBG’s passing, Mark says, “We are grateful that we got to meet her and experience her kindness.”

Be sure to read Mark’s full story of his family’s meeting with Justice Ginsburg in a recent Washington Post story.

Tracy Coley
Tracy Coleyhttp://boomathens.com
Tracy Coley is a local writer and former long-time communications staff member at the University of Georgia. She earned an MFA in narrative nonfiction from UGA, where she also teaches journalism. In her spare time she writes about home, faith, grief, resilience, and the human spirit.

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  1. You are so talented and I am very proud of you for going after your dreams. That is such a great example for the youth that you mentor. Well done!!

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