Pearl S. Buck International presented the annual Woman of Influence Award to Judge Cynthia M. Rufe June 24 in the foundation’s new event center.
Judge Rufe spoke at the awards dinner of her special admiration for Pearl S. Buck, the Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author who lived and wrote in the nearby stone farmhouse in Hilltown Township. “Pearl Buck was a humanitarian,” Rufe said. “It’s not a word usually associated with the law.”
It was breathtaking, Rufe said, to look out at the room and see so many who came to the dinner. “I think all of you paid for tickets,” she said, and she thanked the audience for supporting Pearl S. Buck International.
Well-wishers filled the tables at the awards dinner – friends and family, many members of the legal profession. They came to see a woman who had been a social studies teacher, a public defender, an attorney in private practice, a county judge, and finally, a member of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
And, she is a mother – she and her husband, retired Bucks County Court of Common Pleas Judge John J. Rufe, share parenthood of five daughters who have six children.
On the recommendation of Senators Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum, Rufe was nominated to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by President George W. Bush on January 23, 2002 to a seat vacated by Norma Levy Shapiro. She assumed her position on June 10, 2002, and now presides over civil and criminal cases in the federal court.
Cynthia Rufe, newspaper chief, yearbook editor, and participant in an abundance of activities, graduated from Bristol Borough High School in 1966. She majored in political science and education at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y., and went on to study law at the State University of New York (SUNY) Buffalo.
As an undergraduate, she was class president and recipient of the Outstanding Senior Woman Award. In law school she became the first woman to receive the Erie County Bar Association Trial Lawyer’s Award for Excellence in Trial Advocacy.
Before entering the legal profession, Rufe taught social studies at Bristol Junior-Senior High School. She began working in the Bucks County Public Defender’s Office and stayed until 1982, serving in the Juvenile Division, representing delinquent, dependent, abused and neglected children.
She opened a private practice in Newtown after leaving the Public Defender’s Office. She practiced civil and criminal law and specialized in child abuse cases. Concern for children and education followed her through her early career. She became solicitor for the Bucks County Children and Youth social services agency.
Before being elected to the Bucks County Court of Common Pleas, where she served for eight years starting in 1994, Rufe became a director of the Bucks County Bar Association. In 1988, she was appointed to the Blue Ribbon Panel of judges and attorneys to form the Pro Bono Committee, which established volunteer panels of attorneys to represent individuals in civil cases, initially for victims of domestic violence.
A member of the Bucks County, Philadelphia, and American Bar Associations, she has been a member to the ABA Commission on Civics Education in the Nation’s Schools and she was appointed to the Bucks County Correctional System Task Force for Improvement of Women and the Mentally Ill.
In whatever capacity she has served, Judge Rufe has been a leader. As a federal judge, she co-chairs a committee that develops civics and law-related programs, including the Adult Civics Education Course at the Community College of Philadelphia. In 2006, she organized colleagues to preside over mock trials and appellate arguments of 500 high school students from 50 high schools in the Delaware Valley. She partnered with the Administrative Office of the United States Courts and the National Constitution Center to produce programs and videos for civics education use in schools and for the community.
Judge Rufe has just completed a term at the helm of the Federal Judges Association. In Bucks County, Rufe was an active board member of several community agencies related to the improvement of youth, families, protection from abuse, chemical addiction and mental health, including Youth Services, Inc.; Today, Inc.; Reaching-at-Problems, Inc. Group Home; and Prevention and Rehabilitation for Youth and Development (PRYD) Inc.
She was a founding member of the Organization to Prevent Teenage Suicide (OPTS) Inc. and the Schofield Ford Bridge Reconstruction Committee, which reconstructed the covered bridge in Tyler State Park. She is a past president of Soroptimist International of Indian Rock Inc.
In 1999, A Woman’s Place, Bucks County’s shelter for women and their families, awarded Judge Rufe the M.J. Kirkpatrick Award for Leadership in recognition of her work to end domestic violence.
In 2011, the Philadelphia Bar Association selected Judge Rufe as its recipient for the Sandra Day O’Connor Award. She received the 2012 Distinguished Alumna Award from the SUNY Buffalo law school and she was awarded the Adelphi University Legends Award for her contributions to public service. In 2016 she was honored with the Bucks County Women’s History Month Award.
Judge Rufe had begun her presentation to the group gathered for the Woman of Influence ceremony last week by saying that she had received so many awards that she weighed carefully whether to accept this one.
She accepted, she said, because of her belief in the Buck Foundation’s mission and its work with children over many years. And when she looked at former award winners’ names – including Laura Bush and Audrey Hepburn – she was impressed.
She liked especially, she said in a moment of levity, following in the film star’s footsteps.