Herbert Ruben, advocate for the mentally ill, dies at 87

Herbert Ruben, a longtime Long Beach resident who Herbert Ruben, a longtime Long Beach resident who spent decades advocating for mental health care, died May 20, 2013, at Columbia Medical Center in Manhattan. He was 87. Newsday's obituary for Herbert Ruben
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Herbert Ruben, a longtime Long Beach resident who spent decades advocating for mental health care, died Monday at Columbia Medical Center in Manhattan. He was 87.

The cause of death was skin cancer, his family said.

After being diagnosed with multiple types of cancers in 1988, including prostate cancer and melanoma, doctors told Ruben he had just a few years to live.

But "strictly with will and determination" -- and regular workout sessions with a trainer for the New York Jets -- Ruben went on to live 25 years longer than doctors had expected, said his son Michael.

Ruben, a psychotherapist, steered the Peninsula Counseling Center, a Valley Stream mental health and chemical dependence treatment center, for 52 years as its executive director. During his tenure, the organization raised its public profile among the mental health community as it gained widespread recognition, said John Kastan, the center's current director.

Ruben was born Aug. 15, 1925, in Atlantic City, and grew up in Philadelphia. He graduated from St. Joseph's University and later earned a master's degree in social work from the University of Chicago. Upon graduating, he became a member of the First Division Marine Corps during World War II and was stationed for two years on Okinawa.

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Ruben was married to Charlotte Ruben, a social worker for the Roslyn school district, from 1948 to 1973, and then to Susan Ruben, a psychotherapist at the Peninsula center. They later divorced.

Professionally, he focused on promoting mental health services for veterans. He served as the part-time director of the Veterans Mental Health Coalition of New York City and the Veterans Health Alliance of Long Island. John Javis, an administrator at the Veterans Health Alliance, recalled Ruben's drive to help his fellow veterans.

"He really fought very hard for people with mental illness," Javis said. "That population is not well-represented, and he really was a tremendous advocate -- standing up for their rights."

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At home, said his son, Michael Ruben of Jamestown, R.I., in a phone interview: "We never had a screwdriver or a hammer in the house -- I didn't even know what they were growing up. His tools were words, and he used words to inspire people, to change things, to communicate love."

Ruben spent the last six months of his life volunteering at the Military Family Clinic at New York University's Langone Medical Center. He was volunteering "until the day he went into the hospital," Michael said.

Besides his son Michael, Ruben is survived by another son, Sandy, of Hillsborough, N.C.; four grandchildren; five step-grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

Burial was at Pinelawn Memorial Park in Pinelawn after a funeral Thursday at Boulevard-Riverside Chapel in Hewlett.

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