Leah Rule "had the biggest smile of anyone in the Twin Cities music scene," said Martin Devaney, one of the countless musicians who came up under Rule's wing at the Turf Club, a rock 'n' roll haven in St. Paul. Those musicians suffered a somber blow just before the holidays when they learned that Rule, who helped book bands at the Turf for a decade with her husband, Rob, died early Friday after a nearly two-year battle with ovarian cancer. The Twin Cities native was 44.

"She left this world as she lived it -- on her own terms," Rob wrote in a posting on Leah's CaringBridge site. He said she passed away at home just after midnight while they were watching one of her favorite holiday movies, "Love Actually." She had been receiving hospice care since mid-November after numerous rounds of chemotherapy treatments.

"She is now pain free," Rob said, adding, "I'm one of the fortunate ones to have met my soulmate in this life."

Also a bassist in the Mammy Nuns -- which anchored Tuesday nights at the Turf Club and the popular Grand Young Day tributes to Neil Young -- Leah was a fixture at the Turf Club from the late 1990s to 2005.

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman paid tribute to her via Twitter on Friday, saying she "turned the Turf Club into an institution."

Before the Rules, the Turf Club and St. Paul on the whole were generally off the radar for Twin Cities rock 'n' roll hipsters. That changed greatly with the Tuesday-night gigs and the St. Paul Music Club, which the Rules helmed to foster a music scene on the east side of the river, sparking the eclectic, untrendy, garage-aesthetic scene that lives to this day at the University Avenue hangout. You still see SPMC stickers and T-shirts around the Turf and other venues to this day.

"The Turf Club definitely wouldn't be what it is today without Leah and Rob," said Ryan O'Rourke, the venue's current talent booker.

Leah's illness became public knowledge last winter when a benefit album and concert at the Amsterdam Bar & Hall -- each dubbed "Rock for the Rules" -- were organized in her honor, with participants including Molly Maher, St. Dominic's Trio, Little Man, the Tisdales, Crossing Guards and Jennifer Markey. A second volume of the "Rock for the Rules" album is in the works for release early next year; it will feature the Rank Strangers, the Roe Family Singers, Dan Israel, Kruddler, the Beatifics and even St. Paul metal vets Impaler.

The Rules left the Turf Club in 2005 when a new owner took over. They moved to a farm in Boyceville, Wis., where their country experiences became the basis of a comic-book series that Leah created, the Rural Fox. But they certainly didn't leave their rock 'n' roll lifestyle behind. They persuaded a lot of their urban rock pals to come out and play gigs in a barn they decked out to resemble the Turf Club.

"Their barn became the best rock club in all of Wisconsin," raved Belfast Cowboys and St. Dominic's Trio leader Terry Walsh, who said of Leah, "She was nice and open and giving to all the musicians, whether they were big shots or nobodies."

A memorial service for Leah is planned for early January, probably at a music venue in the Twin Cities.

Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658