Lessons From The Playground

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Ruth Wedgwood at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting with the late Richard von Weizsacker, former president of Germany

From marble shark to international lawyer

In the early 1960s, during lunch breaks at Great Neck’s Kensington-Johnson Elementary School, Ruth Glushien became a notorious marble shark.

As soon as the recess bell rang and kids piled out to the playground, she would casually line up the glass Aggies and Cats-Eyes and Bumble Bee marbles behind a nearly invisible crack on the schoolyard pavement, hoping to capture the marbles bowled by ingenue pupils that leapt over the setups. With winsome guile, she soon had an unmatched collection of victory marbles.

The Great Neck North Class of ’67 grad credits the same acute eye—and a willingness to be underestimated—for the success of her later forays as an international law professor at Yale and Johns Hopkins, as a criminal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan and as a United Nations human-rights diplomat.

Ruth and her parents moved to their Great Neck home on Station Road in 1959. Her father was the general counsel of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and her mother was an admired artist. As a student at Great Neck North High School, Ruth’s cherished friends included Mimi Weiping Lou, Marjorie Howard and Peter Gutmann. Ruth also remained a fan of English teachers Joan Kozlarek and Andrew Porter and music teacher Bruce Thompson, though at times Mr. Thompson could be notoriously grumpy.

After high school, Ruth attended Harvard College, becoming president of her class and associate editorial chairman of the Harvard Crimson—and used her “presidential” office to push the university to give future female applicants an equal shot at Harvard admissions, instead of the prior uncouth quota system that favored males four to one.

Following a fellowship year at the London School of Economics, she entered Yale Law School and became the first female to lead the Yale Law Journal. She also became the first female to serve as a law clerk to the nationally renowned Judge Henry J. Friendly on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York, followed by a clerkship on the United States Supreme Court with Justice Harry A. Blackmun.

Ruth’s final adventure in Washington was as counselor to the assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division, where she led the reform of the FBI’s investigative, undercover and informant guidelines, seeking to protect civil liberties while allowing effective investigative methods. She also shaped the Classified Information Procedures Act, which allowed prosecutors to bring sensitive criminal cases without unduly imperiling critical sources and methods.

Still not through with her sidewalk adventures, Ruth returned to New York in 1980, serving as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District. She and her fabulous FBI agents pursued a ring of dastardly landlord arsonists who had a habit of burning down occupied multifamily apartment houses in the Bronx and Harlem to collect insurance proceeds.

Ruth also supervised the dramatic “spy-versus-spy” FBI undercover operation to snare a Bulgarian diplomat who was stealing top-secret documents concerning allied nuclear capabilities. After Ruth defeated the spy’s claims of diplomatic immunity, Penyu Baychev Kostandino was traded to the Russians across the famed Glienicke Bridge in Berlin—in an East-West swap that was as delicate and heart-stopping as any spy movie.

After these street-life adventures in New York, Ruth returned to Yale Law School as a tenured professor, teaching constitutional law, international law and legal history. She also stirred the mix by serving as senior fellow for international law at the prestigious think tank of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, and served for eight years as the U.S. member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in New York and Geneva.

In 2001, Ruth made her way back to Washington, DC, where she holds the Edward Burling Chair of International Law and Diplomacy at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies.

Ruth’s husband, Dr. Josiah Francis Wedgwood, was a member of the china pottery family and a celebrated epidemiologist at the National Institutes of Health. He unexpectedly passed away in 2009. Her gallant son, Josiah Ruskin Wedgwood, is a rising sophomore at the University of Maryland computer science program.

Ruth avows that her inspiration comes from the examples of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, painting fences and drifting lazily downstream on the way to discovering America.

Richard J. Gerber, who planned the Class of ’67 reunion, is a collectible book dealer in Lake Peekskill, NY. He can be contacted at www.rmgerberbooks.com.

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