The night we had dinner with RBG.

September 25, 2020 by J-Wire
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The  very sad news that Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died was summed up in an email from a friend in Minneapolis  – ‘Cry Our Beloved Country.  We have lost our moral compass.’

Sue Fox

Years ago, in a New York hotel bedroom, the Cspan channel was on.

I was riveted to a tiny woman  I had never heard of addressing the  New York  Women’s Bar Association.  The speaker was RGB.   She was mesmerising.    Thinking she would be a wonderful interviewee for  A Life in the Day or one of the other columns I regularly wrote for The Sunday Times and The Times, I jotted down her name on the hotel notepad.

A few years later the Jewish Policy Review organised a reception in London. It was to follow a lecture given by Ruth Bader Ginsburg at Chatham House.  She would be talking about Jewish Justice in relation to the great American advocates such as  Brandeis, Cordoza and Frankfurter.

I put in a request to the man handling media enquiries for JPR.  Would Justice Ginsburg have time to do an interview?  He replied that he would definitely arrange it.   I left it to him.  A few days before the lecture he admitted he had been unable to secure an interview.   I had long given up the slot.   Obviously disappointed, he advised that I should immediately fax a request to Justice Ginsburg in Washington.  She only communicated by fax and he knew she would be spending a couple of days in London.

I told him that I was not in the habit of chasing anyone and would rather not. He insisted. Against my better judgement I faxed a brief letter asking if, during her short visit to London, she would have any time to talk.  By return came a  polite but firm reply saying that (not unexpected) Justice Ginsburg tended not to give interviews.  I was sorry to have bothered her, even, if truth be told, a tiny bit relieved.      Having left school at 16  with seven unremarkable O’levels   I was hardly qualified to hang up her coat.

Justice Ginsburg’s lecture was mesmerising.  Small in stature, a giant in ideas, she had the room in the palm of her hands.  It was packed with distinguished legal minds, including,  I noticed, Cherie Blair.    The Glorious  RBG’s opening remark was to ask us,  “What is the difference between a book-keeper on the Lower East Side and a Supreme Court Judge?” Everyone looked blank.  “A generation,” she said. “That was what my mother did when I was a child.”

The reception was at the Speaker’s Rooms at the House of Lords. We found a parking spot close by – remember when you could do that? – and joined the line to the reception.  Justice Ginsburg was at the door.   I felt compelled to say ‘Hello, I’m Sue. It was a privilege to hear you. Thank you.’  10 seconds max.

We were about to leave – organising a ride home for a couple of friends – when the bird-like woman who was RBG came up to me and said quietly. “Marty is starving.  Could we go out for dinner?” (Marty was Ruth’s beloved husband).  It was getting on for 9.0pm – where would we go? Did Dearly Beloved have credit cards with him?  Said husband had a word with a former Lord Chief Justice he knew who suggested we go to Le Caprice which was near to the hotel where  Ruth and Marty were staying. I rang the restaurant to say I was from the Sunday Times and had a very urgent interview – could they fit us in? They could.

Having swiftly cancelled our friends, we left the reception with the Bader Ginsburgs  – watching faces drop as the four of us squeezed into the lift. I would have gawped too. As it was around Rosh Hashana  my opening remarks to the cleverest woman I have ever met were these, “If we weren’t going out to dinner, I would have gone home to make chicken soup.”  No doubt thinking that she had agreed to eat with a mad woman, Mrs BG, in all earnestness asked, “Oh dear, Is one of your children sick?”.

It was all slightly surreal, Marty in the front, we two women in the back of our small and embarrassingly ordinary car.  At Le Caprice, we were shown to a quiet table. The wine arrived and Ruth  said to me, “Now, what about this interview?”

“Oh don’t worry about that,”  I gulped. “ There’s no way I would talk to you without being prepared. I don’t have  a tape recorder.” “Oh that’s much better,” she said kindly.  We can just have a social evening.”

What an evening.  They were the best company. My husband is a tax accountant and Marty (who obviously adored his wife)  was a brilliant US lawyer specialising in Tax.  They had lots to talk about. We all had. Ruth was particularly interested in all the classical musicians and opera singers I had interviewed. No matter we had met them an hour ago,  it was as we had known them for years. They were such easy company. I can’t remember what any of us ate – the conversation was much too fascinating. Ruth –  we were on first name terms –  rode horses and had learned Swedish. Who knew?    We were captivated by Marty’s conversation, and his wife’s quiet, sparkling but ever-thoughtful conversation.   ( At one point I remember thinking that this wasn’t really happening and any minute I would wake up at my sink in my yellow Marigolds having had my hand up a chicken looking for giblets.).

The most memorable conversation stopper was when Marty asked my husband if he was a member of the Dennis Thatcher Society?  Clueless, Dearly Beloved wondered if it was something to do with whiskey and fine wines?  “No” Marty laughed. “It’s for men who are married to wives of great stature!”

We all laughed.  The men swapped cards.  “Come visit my office in Washington,” Marty suggested. Turning to me he said simply. “You know where Ruth is!”

We drove them to their hotel,  feeling genuinely sad to see them go.  Forty-eight hours later a FedEx packet arrived addressed to me. Inside were some CDs and a letter  It was from James Ginsburg, an American music producer based in Chicago.

“ My parents said they had a lovely evening with you in London and my mom thought Sue would be interested in these recordings, and the work I do with Chicago musicians.”  James.

Le Caprice has closed. Marty Ginsburg died in 2010. RGB  has left the world a much poorer place and America an even more dangerous country.   It is Rosh Hashana.  My children and grandchildren visited, over two days,  separately,  in the garden for chicken soup.

Sue Fox writes for The Times and The Sunday Times in the U.K.

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