Gladys Rubinstein, a generous benefactor to the arts and many other civic causes, died Sunday (Jan. 26) at her home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., after a brief illness. She was two days short of her 93rd birthday.
Together with her husband, Sam, who died seven years ago, Mrs. Rubinstein was one of the philanthropic pillars of the arts in Seattle. The couple’s generosity, continued by Mrs. Rubinstein, made possible the continued survival and many creative initiatives of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, Seattle Opera, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Chamber Music Society and several other arts organizations.
The Rubinsteins also were major benefactors of Seattle Public Library, University of Washington Press, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Northwest Kidney Center, and the Seattle chapters of the American Jewish Committee and Jewish Federation. The Rubinsteins were important collectors of early 20th-century European art, which the Seattle Art Museum exhibited in 2004-05; they also contributed $2.5 million to the museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park.
The former Gladys Seidenverg grew up in Alaska. Her father had moved to Nome in the wake of the Gold Rush, and the family also lived in Seattle and Anchorage. She moved back to Seattle to attend the University of Washington, where she met a young Sam Rubinstein at a sorority open house. The couple married in 1940, and Sam — a second lieutenant in the Army Air Force — was stationed in India when their son Mark was born.
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After Sam Rubinstein’s return from service, his business successes grew, from fisheries and canneries to the acquisition of retail business, shopping centers and investments (he served on the board of Starbucks during its early years). These successes soon allowed the Rubinsteins to indulge their fondness for the arts.
“Sam loved the opera and opera singers,” Mrs. Rubinstein recalled in 2013, “and I loved symphonic music. When we got married, he had all these recordings of old opera singers he loved, and I didn’t particularly love them — but I learned to. And he grew to love symphonies.” Urged by their friends, the late Dr. Hans and Thelma Lehmann, both Rubinsteins became active in Seattle Symphony board leadership and philanthropy. They played an important role in the founding of Seattle Opera, Pilchuck Glass School, and the Seattle Chamber Music Society.
“I would say this: No one cared more for Seattle Opera than Gladys Rubinstein. She always said to me that her husband, Sam, loved opera best, and she wanted always to support us in his memory. Her generosity was legendary. Over the years I have enjoyed many visits with her and have found her a truly remarkable, interesting and memorable person,” said Speight Jenkins, general director of Seattle Opera.
The Rubinsteins were reluctant to accept recognition; former Seattle Symphony music director Gerard Schwarz said he had to “ask them many times” before they consented to receive the Seattle Symphony Arts Award. The couple also were given the Lifetime Dedication to the Arts Award by ArtsFund, Seattle’s united corporate fund for the arts.
Close friends of Gerard and Jody Schwarz’s, the Rubinsteins became godparents to their children, Gabriella and Julian Schwarz.
“Gladys was a woman of great warmth and taste with a very clear idea of quality and importance,” Gerard Schwarz said. “Her philanthropic work is legendary, and she not only supported the major institutions, but was a visionary in supporting what was new, interesting, educational and of high artistic quality.”
In their later years, the Rubinsteins also became active in the arts in the Palm Springs, Calif., area.
After her husband’s death in 2007, Mrs. Rubinstein remained an active donor to the causes closest to the couple: Those include Schwarz’s All-Star Orchestra (an orchestra of top musicians from around the country), and the Seattle Opera, where the current season is presented by Mrs. Rubinstein as a tribute to her operaphile spouse.
Of her continuing support of the arts, she said in a 2013 interview: “I ask myself, ‘What would Sam do? What would he want to happen?’ Then it is easy to decide.”
Mrs. Rubinstein is survived by her son, Mark, and by two grandchildren, Maisie and Judd, all of the San Francisco Bay Area. A Seattle memorial event will be announced at a later date.
Melinda Bargreen: firstname.lastname@example.org