Ruby Rubens Credit: via Ruby Rubens' Facebook profile

Ruby Rubens, a well-known local education, housing and human rights advocate and the first African American school board staff assistant, died Thursday morning at age 86.

The Montgomery County Board of Education announced Rubens’ death during a meeting Thursday afternoon. Many members were emotional, sharing personal stories and memories.

“Ruby was almost like a second mother to me,” board Vice President Brenda Wolff said. “I was out last week having a medical procedure and one of the first to call and check in after was Ruby Rubens. … This is such a tremendous loss.”

Rubens was a founding member of the Coalition for Equitable Representation in Government and a longtime board member of the NAACP. She worked with the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission, the U.S. Civil Service Commission, the Social Security Administration and the New York Department of Social Services.

Rubens was an ombudsman for the school board from 1995 to 2000. She was an inductee into the Montgomery County Human Rights Hall of Fame and a recent recipient of the Neal Potter Path of Achievement Award, which honors older Montgomery County volunteers.

She was a longtime volunteer in MCPS, school board President Shebra Evans said, helping to work on and implement the findings of several program studies.

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Rubens was the mother of John F. Kennedy High School Principal Joe Rubens.

Student school board member Nate Tinbite said Rubens was a “kind-hearted, amazing person” and her death marks a “sad day for MCPS.”

School board members Judy Docca and Jeanette Dixon highlighted that Rubens was a steadfast, vocal advocate for equity.

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School board member Rebecca Smondrowski suggested adding Rubens’ name to the MCPS “master list” of potential names for future schools.

MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith called Rubens’ death a “true shock,” noting he had a meeting scheduled with her for next week.

“I got to know Ruby very well over the past four years,” he said, “because she’s been a tremendous help and support to the school system and our efforts to maintain the excellence she believed in so strongly, and increase the equity she knew was so critical for every child.”

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Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com