Cynthia J. Bolbach, leader of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), dies at 64

Danny Bolin - Cynthia "Cindy" Bolbach, editorial director and Presbyterian official, dies at 64.

Cynthia J. Bolbach, 64, a lawyer and editor with a Washington area publisher of legal and regulatory information who for two years was the chief officer of the national Presbyterian Church, died of cancer Dec. 12 at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington.

Her death was confirmed by a nephew, Ben White.

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Ms. Bolbach retired in January as executive vice president of Bloomberg BNA (Bureau of National Affairs) after 40 years with the organization. Within days after retiring, she learned she had stage four ovarian cancer.

In 2010, she was elected to a two-year term as moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), a mainline Protestant denomination of 1.9 million members in more than 10,000 churches. She defeated five clergy candidates for the office, which is jokingly referred to as the “Presbyterian pope.”

As moderator, Ms. Bolbach was the top-ranked officer of the church. She led its most recent national assembly, which authorized local Presbyterian churches and governing assemblies to ordain clergy and elders without regard of their sexual orientation. Ms. Bolbach supported the measure.

At BNA, an employee-owned legal and regulatory news service until its acquisition by Bloomberg last year, Ms. Bolbach had been corporate secretary, overseeing the organization’s stock plan, and a member of the board of directors for 10 years. She joined BNA in 1972 as a legal editor.

Cynthia Jean Bolbach was born Dec. 27, 1947, in Lancaster, Pa. As a child, she had a pet hamster named Luther and a guinea pig named Calvin, which years later would be interpreted by friends as early signs of her commitment to the reformist tradition in organized religion. She graduated from Wittenberg University in Ohio in 1969 and from Georgetown University Law School in 1972.

At 6-foot-2, with a shock of steel-gray hair, she had an authoritative, even intimidating, persona that was mitigated by a wry and ironic sense of humor that made people feel at ease, said Greg McCaffery, chief executive of Bloomberg BNA.

As corporate secretary, Ms. Bolbach always tried to lighten the traditionally long and tedious BNA annual meetings with such facetious promises as the expected appearance of guest celebrities — such as Lady Gaga — to read the minutes of previous meetings.

A resident of Arlington, Ms. Bolbach was an elder at the First Presbyterian Church of Arlington. She had previously been a deacon and an elder at the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in the District. She had been moderator of the National Capital Presbytery, which is the oversight body of Presbyterian churches in the Washington area.

At one point in the General Assembly proceedings that led to her election as moderator, the six candidates were asked to speculate about the consequences should they lose. The five clergy candidates gave reverent and solemn discourses. Ms. Bolbach rose and declared that if she did not win, “absolute chaos would ensue!” The assembly erupted in laughter. The Presbyterian News Service later noted that her “winsome sense of humor” helped carry the day.

Survivors include a sister, Ann B. White of Washington. For a period in the 1980s, Ms. Bolbach was a foster parent.

After her cancer diagnosis in February, Ms. Bolbach underwent chemotherapy treatments and lost her hair. As the public face of the national Presbyterian Church, she continued her travels around the country for conferences and other events.

In June, she presided over her church’s biennial assembly meeting in Pittsburgh from a wheelchair and wearing a wig.

It was widely known that Ms. Bolbach’s favorite color was green. At her last assembly meeting, many of the delegates wore green wigs in a gesture of solidarity and support.