Obituary: Kenneth David Rubens

Jewish Museum patron who helped promote affordable housing


Descended from one of the oldest families in Anglo-Jewry, Kenneth Rubens, OBE, who has died aged 87, was born into privilege. He inherited a family property business and accepted his advantages with a rare sense of noblesse oblige, devoting a large part of his life to serving others. 

Rubens chaired the Jewish Museum in London for the past 26 years, and played an exceptional role in overseeing its expansion from London’s Woburn House to its present home in Camden, north London. His involvement in the Museum’s acquisition of a four storey piano factory  aided its development.

He became the JM’s Vice President in 2004, supporting its fundraising programme to boost its expansion. Both as chair and vice president, he and his wife Angela proved to be among the museum’s most generous and loyal supporters. 

Despite his outward reserve, those who came to know Rubens soon began to appreciate his essential kindliness and his willingness to engage with others. This characteristic reflected the same passion which motivated his uncle, Alfred Rubens, one of the museum’s founding fathers.
Rubens’ support helped the Museum portray the history, identity and culture of Jews in Britain, to explore cultural diversity and the contribution of minorities. He would have taken a keen interest in its recent Sephardi exhibition. The Museum is currently exhibiting the work of Jewish emigré artists in Britain whose designs for leading British companies radically influenced 20th century design. 

Rubens was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s 1997 birthday honours for charitable services to the Jewish community. However, that charitable impulse extended beyond the Museum. For many years he chaired the Industrial Dwellings Society founded by Lord Rothschild in 1885 to re-house people mainly from London’s East End slums. Thousands of people continue to benefit from the provision of decent, affordable housing in which Kenneth took a personal interest. For 10 years he chaired the Central British Fund, now (World Jewish Relief), travelling widely to help those in dire need. Other causes included the Hampstead Photographic Society.  

Kenneth Rubens was the son of Harry Isaac and Gladys Priscilla. Educated at Oundle, he qualified as a Chartered Surveyor before joining his family firm, the Property and Reversionary Investment Corporation, which he further developed. He was descended on his mother’s side from the Paiba family who had settled in the City of London in the 17th century. This connection remained close to Rubens’ heart and he was fiercely loyal to the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation of London, serving in several capacities. His shrewd knowledge of the property market enabled the Congregation to enhance rather than dissipate its inherited assets in the City of London. Rubens enjoyed other links with the City of London and at his death was the senior Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Painter-Stainers, a City Livery company that received its first royal charter from

Queen Elizabeth 1 in 1581 and now funds educational projects for the encouragement of fine and decorative arts.

Kenneth Rubens is survived by Angela, their sons Simon and Paul and five grandchildren.

Lucien Gubbay

Kenneth Rubens: 
born October 10, 1929. Died September 29, 2017

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