The Continuing Legacy of Mary Rubach

Katherine Rubach

Mary was born on February 3rd, 1924 in London, the first child of Ernest and Dorothy Pigott , he, a sales representative for Watermans Pens and she, a dance teacher. The family, Mary now with two younger siblings, Joy and Robin, were not well off, but fortunately inherited a house from an uncle in Bournemouth, where they moved. Attending Queens Mount on scholarship, Mary was hailed as the school’s first student to have ever successfully passed the High School Certificate. Mary was also quite sporty, becoming captain in the field hockey team. She was a good swimmer and learnt lifesaving skills, which were soon put to use when as a 14 year old, she saved a drowning girl at sea. Mary frequently attended a Spiritualist Church with her mother.

At a time when girls of her class did not go to university, Mary did, studying geography and history at Exeter. The family was little touched by the war, though her father did serve in Africa. She was part of the land army during her summer holidays which meant picking fruit and digging potatoes. With 21 years and a degree and teaching diploma, Mary got a job at a Boys School. Later she moved to a school closer to home where her help was needed. (Her father, having depression, was given a leucotomy operation. This lead to a life in a wheelchair.) Mary struggled to maintain discipline in her classes and after four years she gave up teaching, feeling like she had failed and not knowing what to do next.

She volunteered in London at the Bermondsey Settlement, which offered social, health and educational services to the poor of its neighbourhood. It had a particular focus on music and dance. She was impressed by her mentors in this work, and later saw this time as deeply formative. This was the beginning of a lifetime thread which found Mary working with people on the fringes of society. After a year, she trained as a probation officer and social worker, and worked with delinquent children, and then assisted in school medical examinations. This was her first experience of feeling capable in a job.

In 1953, at a Fabian Society meeting, she was told of a conference taking place at Bedford College with Dr Ernst Lehrs. This led to regular visits to Rudolf Steiner House for lectures, eurythy and painting classes. She was 29 years old when she went to Dornach for the Mystery Dramas and met Hermann Rubach, 18 years her senior. He was German, but had been living in the U.S. for the last 29 years. They married on his birthday, May 1st 1954 in London with Reverand Heidenreich and sailed on the Queen Mary for New York. They settled in San Francisco and then Berkeley. He became a life-insurance agent and she trained in social work.

Christoph, was born to her in 1959, and Katherine in 1963. Mary was a thoroughly dedicated mother, alongside supporting her husband in the anthroposophical society. Herman became a Class Reader and chairman of the Anthroposophical Society in Northern California, as well as at times being West Coast Representative. The Rubach’s held a weekly study group at their house on the hill, through which many people passed. They advertised these at the UC Berkeley campus - home of radical thinking in the 60’s and beyond. Mary played an important part in the founding of the Christian Community in San Francisco, although she was not at the time an active member she was seen performing her name sake in the Oberufer Christmas plays. She enjoyed water colour and studied different approaches including Collot d’Bois’, as well as giving painting classes in her home. The couple often hosted visiting anthroposophical lecturers and thus they met Francis Edmunds, leading to a year sabbatical at Emerson for the family in 1971. Mary helped found the local Rudolf Steiner School (too late for her children), and taught aspects of the “Extra Lesson” by Audrey McAllen. She also tried in various ways to introduce aspects of the Waldorf curriculum into the schools her own children attended, often as a storyteller. For 12 years she volunteered at The Creative Living Centre, a day centre where people could go who had recently been discharged from a mental hospital. There she offered eurythmy, art appreciation and drama to the attendees.

Mary decribed how after working with anthroposophy for 33 years, she began to question its role in her life. She wished to make a difference in the lives of people who were suffering. Mary’s concern for the disadvantaged led her to seek ways of helping the homeless. She co-founded and lead a drop-in centre for homeless women and children which was enriched by the arts and crafts, she encouraged.

Herman became increasingly dependent on his wife’s care over a 7 year period. Iscador had often been of help in the family. Herman had paid for his cousin Gisela to receive treatment for cancer in Arlesheim. She lived for another 40 years cancerfree. Mary’s mother lived for 20 years after treatment. Now Herman was diagnosed with prostate and advanced bone cancer. He made a complete recovery and regained his vitality, but suffered multiple small strokes loosing his speech and mobility. Mary nursed him at home until his death in 1992. After this trying period Mary was suddenly free to pursue new interests. She traveled to the UK and Germany and made cultural trips to Greece, Ireland and the south western states in America. She attended the Anthroposophical Schooling Course at the Centre for Social Development in Sussex and hosted the English Eurythmy Theatre on their tours of the USA. She did storytelling in the community and enjoyed ‘clowning’.

It was at this time, that she began to work for prisoners, both writing and visiting them. She worked for a small organisation called California Prison Focus, whose aim it is to defend the rights of prisoners who were regularly mistreated in the Californian prison system. With this work she experienced that she had found a real task in life, and she dedicated much time and effort to it over a 12 year period, traveling to San Francisco to work in the CPF office 2 to 3 times a week as well as working from home. She used her car to drive small groups to Pelican Bay (super max high security) Prison, where prisoners rights were clearly being violated. This was a day’s travel and Mary was 80. They interviewed and supported prisoners. Only through this organization could prisoners have their voice heard, and the law regarding confinement of the mentally ill was changed because of it. Mary’s children sadly had to encourage her to give up this work, in 2007 bringing her to England, but she remained very connected and continued to write to prisoners she had come to know. Prisoners clearly felt deeply grateful to Mary and continued to write to her even when she could no longer reply.

Mary moved into the annexe of her daughter’s house in Forest Row, and immediately became active in the anthroposophic community. She attended study groups and went regularly to lectures and conferences. She tried to connect with the prison system here to visit prisoners, but this proved not possible. She will be remembered by some for her clowning, which brought out a side of her that longed to be on stage. With her money Mary had always supported multiple charities with small donations. This continued in England. Most of the charities were connected to human rights, animal rights and agriculture.

Mary’s memory become increasingly weak. She lived in the moment, but could still say things that were very too the point. In 2014 she had a bad fall, and a live-in carer became necessary. She remained active until the end, taking regular walks and enjoying the company of friends and family and even attending lectures. Three days before she crossed the threshold she came down with a chest infection and she was able to cast off her earthly garments on September 22nd as dawn broke.

Her contentment with life, and the gratitude expressed to those around her was inspiring to many. People spoke of her uniqueness, her humour, her straight forward way of expressing her thoughts, her generosity and selflessness. They frequently expressed how lucky they felt to have known her. Mary has left behind her two children, Christoph and Katherine, and her four grandchildren, Amanda and Simeon Rubach and Daniel and Brendan Beaven. Peace be with her. ●


A chapter completed,
A page turned,
A life well-lived,
A rest well-deserved.