Rufus Ezekiel Lester was born on December 12, 1837 in Burke County, Georgia near Waynesboro. Rufus was the child of Ezekiel and Mary Lester. He was educated in the country schools until he attended Mercer University, graduating in 1857. Having studied law, he was admitted to the Bar in Savannah, Georgia in 1859. And that same year he married Laura Hines on November 10.
In his early practice he was a member of the firm Norwood, Wilson and Lester (later Brig. Gen. Claudius C. Wilson), Wilson & Lester and Lester & Ravenel. His law practice in Savannah was interrupted by the Civil War in 1861.
Fulfilling his call to duty, Lester enlisted in the 25th Georgia Regiment, Volunteer Infantry under his law partner Col. Claudius Wilson. He was soon promoted to the rank of lieutenant and adjutant, serving in the vicinity of Savannah. In the fall of 1861 until the spring of 1863 he served General Hugh Mercer and General W.H.T. Walker in the coast defense. Lester was transferred to Mississippi with Gen. Walker where he was promoted to acting assistant Adjutant General of the brigade. He participated in actions in Jackson, Vicksburg and Chickamauga where he was wounded twice. Although disabled, he continued in the service until the close of the war. Col. Lester then returned to his home and law practice.
In 1870, Lester was elected to the Georgia State Senate, serving until 1879. In his last three years he was president of the Senate.
1883 saw him win election as the Mayor of Savannah. He held the office until 1889 when he ran successfully for the Fifty First US Congress. Serving on the Rivers and Harbor committee he was able to give important aid to Savannah to increase the harbor. On the appropriations committee he was able to erect a marble post office building and the Marine Hospital in Savannah. During his terms in congress, Lester is said to have done more for his city than any Representative before him.
In Washington, DC Lester had residence at the Cairo Apartments. On the evening of June 15, 1906 he went to the roof of the building to look for his grandchildren, thinking they may have gone there. While on the roof he lost his footing and fell thirty feet through a skylight. Physicians were summoned after he was found and they reported his wounds to be fatal, but he made a gallant fight for life throughout the night until dusk the next day. Congressman Lester died the evening of June 16, 1906.