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RBG: ‘She Gave An Incredible Gift To Humanity’

Mourners paid their respects to Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bade Ginsburg Friday as she lied in state at the U.S. Capitol. 

And in Fort Walton Beach, at the Okaloosa County court annex, about 80 people gathered for an informal vigil where people shared what “RBG” meant to them. 

“We’re just four women who admired her and mourned her loss and just needed to get together and be with our sisters and brothers and remember her,” said Judy Byne Riley, one of the organizers of Friday’s event. 

Riley has been a longtime admirer of Ginsburg — otherwise known to younger generations as the Notorious RBG — and said women of all generations owe a debt of gratitude to the late justice. 

“Young women today don’t realize how fortunate they are that they didn’t have to fight the battles she helped win, she one of our heroes,” said Riley.  

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Credit Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media
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Mourners honor the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Before RBG was a pop culture icon, she was a tireless advocate for women’s rights. 

“I found this … it’s things I forgot Ruth Bader Ginsburg did for women,” said Trish Roe, one of the vigil organizers, as she pulled a piece of paper from her pocket. “There’s the right to sign a mortgage without a male cosigner. Back in the 70s, I couldn’t get a gas credit card without my husband signing it … the right to have a bank account without a male cosigner — did you know that? See, the 70s were archaic.” 

Wearing earrings and a necklace with the RBG lace collar icon, Andrea Anderson said Ginsburg’s legacy made an impact on her life. 

“I was never told you can’t do something because you’re a girl, and it’s because of women like RBG I grew up thinking I could be anything I want to be,” said Anderson. “She gave an incredible gift to humanity. It’s an honor to honor her.” 

During the vigil, people took turns reading known quotes from Ginsburg. Some shared a few words about her impact on their own lives. And it wasn’t just women who got up to speak. 

When the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of marriage equality, Jeff Nall said he knew how important it was to have diversity in the country’s highest court. What compelled him about Justice Ginsburg was that, to her, equal rights didn’t just stop at women’s rights. 

“Equality can be defined in so many different ways and I think she did that whether that’s gender or whether that’s race or whether that’s sex orientation,” he said. “Equality covers it all. I don’t think she cherry-picked a group. It was across the board.”

Organizers made a point that Friday’s vigil wasn’t about politics. No campaign signs or T-shirts were allowed. There were, however, paper collars, plenty of RBG T-shirts and at least one RBG action figure.

“Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a woman for all people,” said Riley. “She wasn’t a woman for Democrats or Republicans or just women. Her first case before the Supreme Court was for equal rights for men.” 

But as President Donald Trump is expected to announced his Supreme Court pick — Judge Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative favorite — some made it clear they want to help continue Ginsburg’s progressive legacy.  

“For her, it was about doing the right thing regardless of consequences and making sure we were taking care of others and really treating them as we would our neighbor or family,” said Alexis Whyte. “And I want to do as much as I can to fill those giant shoes.” 

As a mother, Whyte said she wants her daughter to know Ginsburg’s story and legacy. And some young people are already very familiar. Like 6-year-old Brittain, who arrived at the vigil dressed in a black robe and decorative white collar. 

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Credit Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media
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Six-year-old Brittain is one of RBG's younger fans.

“(RBG) has been her idol for years,” said Brittain’s mom, Amanda Hill. “She saw the documentary and she was like ‘tell me more.’ She’s been in awe.”

Hill said she’s “incredibly proud” of her daughter’s choice in fandom. 

“I embody everything she fought to make equal,” she added. “Everything about my life as a female boss, as a mother, as an American. She’s everything that I am.”