To his friends and family, John Ruffin was a change agent.
Everywhere he went, everything he touched, he fostered change for the better. His years of community service and mentoring helped hundreds.
Ruffin, a businessman, mentor and supporter of education, died Friday of prostate cancer at age 79.
“Everywhere he went, he wanted everyone to have a better life,” said his wife, Dorothy “Dottie” Ruffin. “John came from a family of educators he believed in education, and we have over the years established many scholarships.”
Ruffin served as the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) chairman of fundraising for Broward County, raising more than $2 million for scholarships. When he retired from his role as chairman, the UNCF created an endowed scholarship in his name for which he raised an additional $100,000.
Last September, he and his wife started an endowed scholarship at Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens.
His wife said he was known as “Uncle John” to so many. She joked that they had many more than just their two biological children, Ruffin was always adopting people.
Devin Robinson, 36, was one of these kids. He met Ruffin while he was in high school. Robinson’s mother died when he was young, and his father left. He didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to achieve the things he did. Ruffin became the man he looked up to, he said.
“We need people like Dr. Ruffin to say these crazy things to us, and push us to be better than we can be,” Robinson said. “He’s like the motivational whisperer or something.”
Jerome Hutchinson, chief service officer and founder of the International Career and Business Alliance (ICABA), knew Ruffin as a close mentor and friend. The two met in 2006, while Hutchinson and his late wife were profiling Ruffin for their publication “Who’s Who in Black South Florida.”
Ruffin quickly became a mentor, role model and guide for Hutchinson.
“He was someone who was very conscious of being a Black man and what that meant and the responsibilities that came with that, to not only carry and conduct himself in a way that would only bring respect, appreciation and admiration to he was individually and who he represented as a Black man, but also to encourage and enable others to be able to do the same,” Hutchinson said.
He said what made Ruffin different was his dedication to people’s lives. Everything he did seemed to have the overriding intention to help people. Others would offer to stay in touch, Ruffin stayed in touch, Hutchinson said.
“He set the example. He talked the talk. He walked the walk,” he said. “Whether it was through the scholarships, whether it was through his one-on-one mentoring, whether it was through his service on numerous boards and initiatives and programs, he was always giving, showing the way, leading the way and encouraging.”
Ruffin grew up in Chatham County, North Carolina, where his mother was an educator and passed down a love for giving.
“He can remember his mother standing with young people and helping them write speeches. She tutored people. She was always giving back,” Dottie Ruffin said. “So, he grew up in a community where people did for each other and his mother was always giving.”
Ruffin graduated from Morgan State University in Maryland and earned a master’s degree from Cornell University. Ruffin also received two honorary doctorates, one from Morgan State for being a pioneer of civil rights and one from Florida Memorial University.
Along with his many years with UNCF, Ruffin played a role in many other community organizations. He served as the vice chairman of the Florida Memorial University Board of Trustees and chairman of the Coral Springs Community Redevelopment Agency. He was active in the Urban League of Broward County, The Community Foundation of Broward and the Coral Springs Economic Development Foundation.
JoeAnn Fletcher, president of the North Broward County Links, worked closely with Ruffin and his wife, who is the organizer for the community service organization. Fletcher said Ruffin was very professional, organized and intelligent.
“John will definitely be a loss to our community. He has made a great impact in the lives of many community leaders serving as a role model and community organizer,” Fletcher said.
Ruffin is survived by his wife, Dottie; two children, Jonathan Ruffin and Jehan Ruffin; and three grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations to the Ruffins’ endowed scholarship at Florida Memorial University.
-Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
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