Nancy Ruth Rubin, 1962-2020


Nancy Rubin was a valued member of the administrative support staff over many years at Washington University.  At the time of her retirement in 2018, she was an administrative assistant in the Department of Art History and Archaeology in Arts and Sciences, where she had worked for 11 years.  She died of a cardiac arrest on Saturday, June 27th, 2020 at St. John's Mercy Hospital in St. Louis. Nancy was deeply appreciated by all those who knew her.

On January 21, 1962, Nancy was born in St. Louis to David Hugh Macdonald and Alberta Rose Schumacher. The Macdonald family lived first in Kirkwood, where Nancy attended elementary school, and later moved to a farm in Washington, Missouri, where she attended Washington High School. There Nancy played the flute in the concert band, ran track, and graduated as valedictorian in 1980.

Nancy attended both Kansas State University and Stanford University, where she studied Linguistics. While in college, she was actively involved in Casa Zapata, El Centro Chicano, the Ecumenical Hunger Program, and worked in support of various social movements. She studied overseas in both Costa Rica and Vienna, and traveled to the Soviet Union. She graduated with her AB from Stanford in 1984. Following college, she began her career as an administrative assistant at Washington University. This is where she met Alex Rubin, her husband of 31 years, who was attending graduate school. She worked first in the Department of Economics, then at the McKelvey School of Engineering.

Joining the Department of Art History and Archeology in 2007, Nancy worked closely with undergraduate and graduate students, and faculty alike.  She often said her favorite part of the job was working with students. She offered not only essential administrative support and advice to the students in our program, but also tremendous personal encouragement as students moved through their degrees toward achieving a broad range of personal and professional goals. Prof. Elizabeth Childs, professor and chair of the Department who worked closely with Nancy, recalls, “In our office, Nancy established a markedly welcoming climate of kindness and good humor, coupled with admirable efficiency and creativity in meeting the extremely varied tasks that came her way. She always kept people’s personal needs in mind as she patiently met their many professional requests, juggling them all and meeting deadlines with seeming ease and a smile. One of her much appreciated habits which continues to this day was that she set up a jar of community candy at her desk to encourage students, faculty and staff alike to stop by for a quick hello just to check in.” In honor of her exceptional work in supporting our graduate students, she received an “Outstanding Staff Award” from the Graduate Student Senate in 2017. She hung that framed award, with pride, above her desk.

In her retirement, Nancy was able to spend more time doing the things she loved, including traveling, reading, sewing, gardening, and spending time with her family.  Nancy was an active member of the Eliot Unitarian Chapel community. She was elected to the Board of Directors, and was involved in the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly meeting and events right until the end of her life.  She spent the last several months of her life at home in quarantine together with her husband Alex, and her sons Nick and Andrew, who had returned to St. Louis from New York City, due to the pandemic. She is also survived by her stepmother Lauretta Macdonald, along with her siblings Susan Macdonald Bray, Sara Cunningham, Stuart Macdonald, and stepsister Julia Conway.

Contribute a memory to this page: Staff, faculty and students who fondly remember Nancy are invited to submit a statement or memory about Nancy and her many contributions to campus life at Washington University. Please send your comment (up to 100 words) to Betha Whitlow, Curator of Visual Resources in the Department of Art History and Archaeology, at  Please put Nancy Rubin Memorial Statement in the subject line of your email, and identify yourself as student, faculty or staff at the end of your message. Thank you.

Services: According to her wishes, Nancy was able to donate her organs. There will be a private ceremony held by the family, as well as a full memorial service at Eliot Unitarian Chapel in Kirkwood, later in the year when it is possible to safely assemble. We will update this page with news of the service, when available.

Donations: The Department of Art History and Archaeology has founded an annual prize to honor Nancy’s memory. Starting in Spring 2021, we will be presenting the “Nancy Rubin Above and Beyond Award” to a current graduate student in recognition of their outstanding contribution to fostering a supportive and productive climate in our graduate program. Donations to this award fund may be made in any amount in one of two ways.

Donors may write out a check to Washington University in Saint Louis (with the memo line of Nancy Rubin Memorial Award) and send it to:

Washington University
University Advancement
c/o Becky Pitzer
MSC 1082
1 Brookings Dr.
St. Louis, MO 63130

 For donors who prefer to make a gift online, please go to: and enter “Nancy Rubin Memorial Award” in the box that says “I prefer to enter my own designation.” We appreciate greatly a contribution in any amount. Every gift honors the memory of this wonderful woman, who gave so much of herself to our community at Washington University.

Tributes to Nancy from Students, Faculty, and Staff

Nancy Rubin was, quite simply, one of the kindest, gentlest individuals I have ever known. When I was a newcomer to St. Louis, she welcomed my family and me with open arms, and as our friendship grew I had the pleasure to get to know her wonderful family and circle of friends, whom she loved deeply and unreservedly. Nancy was endlessly curious about the world, and endlessly caring about the lives of others. She lived with an all-too-rare humanity that I can only try to emulate. I will always be grateful to have been her friend. 
--Nate Jones, Associate Professor

Nancy was one of the first members of the department's community to be in touch with me and to make me feel welcome. As an applicant, I found she reassuringly answered my many questions about the process. As a prospective student, I was grateful she made the arrangements for me to visit campus, which enabled me to experience WashU firsthand. As a new student—and even as a not-so-new student—I relied on her to answer my questions, be a constant source of calm and cheer, and to help me secure a mailbox low enough for me to reach. One of the best bits of advice I received was: "When in doubt, turn to Nancy." Her warmth and generosity will be profoundly missed.
--Allison Perelman, PhD Candidate

I am sad beyond words, but also glad that I was able to meet and spend time with Nancy, even if for a relatively short time after I joined WashU. Nancy was one of the most beautiful souls I ever met. She was so generous with her time and so committed to help all of us in the department, and always did so with a smile that was genuinely heartwarming. I benefited immensely from Nancy's knowledge and wisdom and I also had the best time talking to her! She loved ancient Egypt and I remember once she recommended to me a novel by Andre Norton that she had read a long time before. And suddenly, after a few days, a copy of the book appeared in my mailbox! Nancy, you were/are a gem of a human being and I will miss you so very much.
--Nicola Aravecchia, Assistant Professor

Nancy was always smiling, calm, and caring toward others, even when she was suffering from her illness. Through her pleasant demeanour, she taught me the importance of maintaining a gracious and cheerful deportment, no matter how difficult the problem is. Her kindness during my graduate study and teaching period at WU contributed to an enjoyable and fulfilling time. Thank you, Nancy; you will always be in my heart, and I will forever be grateful to you. 
--Mayu Fujikawa, PhD, Washington University Art History and Archaeology

I always felt badly asking Nancy to do things… Nancy’s engagement with the people and events and places that came her way was so genuine and so filled with her own curiosity and humanity. She was fiercely loyal to those she kept near her. She was a gentle fighter, always clearheaded about her work and about her beliefs. And when Nancy was certain about something, it was never about Nancy, always about the principle that drove her position. Not that we argued. Nancy had great politics; she was on the right side of history, as they say. But I learned very early on just to follow Nancy’s directives. Nancy wasn’t interested in what I thought. She was efficient that way. I will miss her.
--Angela Miller, Professor

Nancy was a multi-dimensional and dynamic person. She took great interest in the lives of the people around her. My favorite aspect of her personality though was her soothing presence. There were some exceptionally difficult moments early in my academic career at WashU, and Nancy had a natural gift for comforting and reassuring me. Although not part of her job description, Nancy always provided this form of care to anyone who needed it. She was our department's remedy - a restorative and warming presence.  Her absence is sorely felt.
--Lacy Murphy, PhD Candidate

Nancy Rubin was an unfailingly kind person. This is especially true of her treatment of graduate students. She knew how to set stress aside and alway said just the right thing to say to lift weighted spirits. Nancy also had the best advice to improve academic life, with enthusiastic reminders to read for fun, breathe deeply, spend time outside, and never turn down chocolate.  Although I haven't seen her for many years, I can still hear her voice and laughter. I'm so grateful and lucky to have known her.
--Andy Findley, PhD, Washington University Art History and Archaeology

Nancy represented the best of us. She was generous and passionate, and, above all, kind. I will forever remember standing, elbows planted on the counter by her desk, chatting about things big and small: weekend plans, family, dream travels, even some gossip here and there. Nancy especially loved to talk about her sons, her husband, and her planned post-retirement trip to Ireland. The last time we talked, she told me all about that trip. The glow of it hadn’t left her, even in the thick of winter. I will cherish that conversation as I remember Nancy with love and gratitude.   
--Lindsay Sheedy, PhD Candidate

Nancy was one of those rare and beautiful human beings who, through constant but unobtrusive acts of kindness, attention, and cheer, make the world better for everyone. Her job was a demanding one, but, no matter how busy her day, she made time for the people who came into her office. I always left feeling happier than I had when I arrived.
--Susan Rotroff, Professor emerita

Nancy was the nicest person I had the privilege of knowing and working with.  She was with the Center for Computational Mechanics before she joined the Department of Art History and Archaeology.  She was attentive, caring, efficient and always cheerful.   It is fitting indeed to have a “Nancy Rubin Above and Beyond Award”.  Magdalin and I extend our deepest sympathy to Alex, Nick and Andrew. 
--Barna Szabó, Professor

Nancy had to be one of the most unflappable people I have ever met. She endured considerable trials, but she always seemed to be calm, steady, and supportive of those around her. Her quiet but clear love for her family came through, I think, in her devotion to the well-being of our graduate students, which I saw demonstrated time and again. Her experience and savvy were essential to my stewardship of the department in two stints as Chair.
--John Klein, Professor

Kind to all, and friendly to those who were equally kind.  Thoughtful, efficient, calm, kind; conscientious and thorough in all her work; open, warm, listening, sympathetic, discrete, kind and cooperative --with undergrads, graduates, and faculty -- such that everyone trusted and confided in her.  Did I mention kindness? a profound and bounteous kindness.  As my honored mother, who came from a similar type of giving tree, would say of Nancy, she was “a goddamn jewel.”
--Bill Wallace, Professor

I will always remember Nancy when I think about my time at WashU.  Her warmth and empathy never wavered. Popping into her office for a piece of candy and chitchat before, during, and after class was a comfort and a treat. Thank you, Nancy, for your kindness during times of struggle, shared joy in moments of celebration, and your generosity of time, company, and empathy.
--  Student

Whenever I had even the smallest piece of good news, I always made sure to share it with Nancy. I will never forget how her face would light up with glee, as if she was happier for you than even you were for yourself.  Nancy also delighted in small but meaningful acts of kindness that were specific in their intent--to say that she knew you are special and valuable. For my birthday one year, she gave me a card that included an Elizabeth Cady Stanton quote: “Nature never repeats herself, and the possibilities of one human soul will never be found in another. “  Nancy meant, as she often did, to remind me of my worth. In showing such great kindness to me and to everyone whose path she crossed, Nancy was truly the rarest and best of humans. I miss her so very much.
--Betha Whitlow, Curator of Visual Resources

I was so sad to hear about the recent loss of our dear colleague, who was always so kind to me during my time as a graduate student in the department. When I was defending my comps in 2010, I was waiting in the main office and felt anxious and nervous, and Nancy generously taught me a sitting position to encourage deep breathing and inner calm that she'd learned from theater. I still use that pose when nervous in advance of conference presentation or meeting! 
--Emily Burns, PhD, Washington University Art History and Archaeology