Obituary: James S. Ruffner / Dedicated Aliquippa lawyer, devoted sports fan
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James S. Ruffner, a skilled attorney in Beaver County for half a century and one of Pittsburgh's hard-core sports fans for longer, died last Friday at the Passavant Retirement and Health Center nursing home in Zelienople. He was 92.
The longtime Aliquippa resident had been in independent and assisted living units in the Passavant retirement community since 2001. He suffered complications after a hip fracture two weeks ago.
From the early 1940s to early 1990s, Mr. Ruffner practiced law in Aliquippa, the town where he grew up. He had special expertise in estate and real estate law and served as president of the Beaver County Bar Association in 1967. He was Beaver County Community College counsel for more than 20 years.
He devoted himself to the Pirates, Penguins, Steelers and other local sports teams. He and his late wife, Elizabeth, a Texan, spent part of their honeymoon at the 1944 baseball All-Star Game at Forbes Field.
He was one of the lucky Pittsburghers at the seventh game of the 1960 World Series, won by the Pirates over the Yankees on Bill Mazeroski's home run.
Mr. Ruffner cared about sports so much that a lawyer fastidious about following rules allowed -- perhaps even encouraged -- a daughter in 11th grade to play hooky to attend the second game of that series with him.
"It was the only unethical thing I ever know of my father doing," said that daughter, Anne R. Edwards of Portland, Maine.
She noted her father evolved from growing up as an only child to delighting in special occasions for his own children. If a daughter passed a driving test, for instance, it was celebrated with cake.
"His public persona was more rational and deliberate," Ms. Edwards said. "We were the only thing that could make him mushy."
He was involved in civic life in numerous ways, including service on the boards of the B.F. Jones Memorial Library and Woodlawn Savings and Loan; leadership of two Masonic lodges; volunteering in numerous ways at Woodlawn United Presbyterian Church; and joining his wife in delivering Meals on Wheels.
Mr. Ruffner for many years nurtured younger Beaver County attorneys and doted on staff members, but a more intense side came out in one particular environment: the golf course.
He won the Aliquippa Golf Club championship in 1939 and was competitive about the game on numerous courses for many decades thereafter.
"He was probably the greatest gamesmanship golfer I ever played with," said fellow lawyer and longtime friend Earl Autenreith of Beaver Falls. "It wasn't for money. It was all about the pride."
Mr. Ruffner took multiple golf trips to Scotland before giving up the game in his 70s. His passion for Pittsburgh teams never faded, though.
During the Penguins' playoff run last spring, his apartment at Passavant was the gathering point for residents he encouraged to join him in watching the games on his 34-inch, high-definition, flat-screen television.
He was wearing Penguins and Steelers pins for his viewing Monday at Huntsman Funeral Home in Rochester. A photo on display there showed him and Elizabeth posing with the Stanley Cup.
In addition to Anne, he is survived by two other daughters, Rebecca R. Lobato of Fort Collins, Colo., and Malissa Ruffner of Baltimore; seven grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter.
Memorial contributions may be made to the B.F. Jones Memorial Library, 663 Franklin Ave., Aliquippa, PA 15001; or Meals on Wheels, 2100 Irwin St., Aliquippa, PA 15001.
First Published November 7, 2008 12:00 am