“Make it funny,” Abby Rueb said of this obituary. Tall task from “Sister Confusion” herself (Nonesuch), who, over the course of her intimate and expansive life, taught an entire island, then an entire island’s kids, to laugh.
“Abby was one of those people whose aura or essence was much bigger than the actual physical human being,” said longtime friend Kay Grossman, who in 1986 hired Abby at the freshly resuscitated Islands’ Sounder.
“She would get a call from a disgruntled subscriber, and in no time at all, Abby had turned the conversation around. The caller was confiding in Abby and pouring out their heart to her. She knew people and could relate so readily and inspire their confidence.”
Born in Los Angeles County, February 19, 1942, Abigail Melissa Arnt Rueb died early in the morning of October 25, 2021, at home in Grindstone, surrounded by her devoted family, among them: son Charlie, daughter Bryn, and husband Rollie Rueb.
Abby and Rollie were married in 1977 at Victorian Valley Chapel and celebrated their 44th with negronis last week.
A founding participant in Seattle’s ACT theater (“all those cushions? She made ‘em”) and known for her Orcas Center roles in Nonesuch, Godspell, and Oliver Twist among others, her timing, amidst the biggest storm in recorded Northwest history, leaves no doubt she knew how to make an exit.
“It was her early Mae West that got my attention,” Rollie said. “It was years before we were married, but I noticed.”
Abby’s Masters in Drama from UW brought her to a teaching position at University of Montana before returning to her beloved Orcas Island for good.
“I love to think about Abby meeting people with good manners and just enough naughtiness to be interesting,” said bosom friend Katie Wisdom Weinstein. “Living life near Abby was like having the sun shine on you, she made a great fan. She taught me how to simply bring people right into your house and family: ‘Hi, it’s so nice to meet you. Can you please go set the table? All the napkins are here, silverware here, you can figure it out.’
Unconditional love was her gift, right?”
If Abby loved you, you were “hers.” If you needed a roadside ride, she picked you up. If she baked a cake, she baked 20—including for her daughter Bryn’s 2018 Grindstone wedding, where a different, delicious, ingredient-unique layer cake graced each table.
“I wanted people to have to swap slices and talk to each other,” Abby said.
Food was never just food; parties were never only about enjoyment.
“She loved a good party,” said her brother Derek Arndt, of Waldron, “but she always came away from a party with some thoughts about people, places, and things. It wasn’t just to have fun for herself, she was always learning something and making assessments and helping people.”
Sometimes, this meant from the eye of a passing tempest.
“Tons of trees were down, power lines cut,” remembered Kay Grossman. “There were 11 of us staying with them in their house in Rosario Highlands. Abby was cooking for all of us on a two burner stove, including for someone who was on a special diet!”
Four Winds *Westward Ho was another treasured home.
“Her first day the phones started ringing and there was no one there to tell her what to do,” said Rollie. “She came home and said: ‘what did I get myself into?” She stayed on as THE indispensable Camp Mom (“she knew everything including where our kids were and if they’d eaten”) for 18 years.
She knew what the Orcas HS footballers were eating too (spaghetti) because every week she brought them home for dinner and team spirit, her tradition that’s continued long after son Charlie graduated. “It was incredibly special,” said Charlie. “The dinners turned us into a team.”
Brash, gigantically generous, unshy of friendly gossip, unencumbered, Abby was a doer:
“I went to hang up two robes and both right arm sleeves were burnt and shriveled. A testament to her early mornings of cooking big, wonderful feasts, before she was even dressed,” said Katie Wisdom Weinstein.
She was also far-seeing, especially into the person in front of her.
“Was there anything better than making that woman laugh her belly laugh? No.”
It’s her laugh, and everything else, we’ll miss the most. Abby was an expander of all the right things, including the frame. When the penner of this obituary said: “Auntie, I’ll take you with me everywhere.” “Fine,” she replied. “Just make sure it’s someplace good!”
Daughter to Charlie and Pat Arnt (both deceased), older sister to Derek and to Rocky (of Driftwood Ranch). Loved partner to Rollie. Fiercely proud mom of Charlie and Bryn. Grandmother to Mei, Tucker, Michael, Patrick, and to brand-new Abby Rose, who she joyfully held in her final days. Auntie to Jess and Thomas. Camp Mother to us all.
No formal gathering is planned at this time.