Not long after the unexpected death of her mother at 36, an Omaha child saw someone new come into her life.
“All I remember,” said Danielle Dubuc-Pedersen, “is looking out the window when a taxi pulled up and an elegant lady got out. I didn't know who she was.”
The woman was her aunt Mary Jane, her mother's sister, who had grown up in Omaha. She was unfamiliar to Danielle, only 4˝, because she had lived out of the country.
U.S. government jobs had taken her to Guam, Japan, Paris and the United Nations in New York, among other places. She arrived home in that taxi in 1959 after flying from Belgium, where she worked in the U.S. Embassy.
At 30, she was well into an exciting career. But she was about to embark on a much different one — helping to raise her sister's five children, then ages 3 to 12.
Mary Jane Abboud would have turned 85 yesterday on Valentine's Day. But she died Feb. 1, and her niece and nephews can't say enough about the love she provided.
“No one can replace your mother, and we appreciated that she was sensitive to that,” said Ted Dubuc, 67, the oldest. “We embraced her as a wonderful person.”
As Danielle said in admiration and a bit of awe: “You give up a career traveling all over the world, doing what you love, to raise your sister's kids. She never married. She was here for her family, and she did everything a parent has to do.”
Her sister, the mother of the five children, was Gloria Abboud-Dubuc. Gloria's husband, Florent Dubuc, a French-Canadian, traveled regularly for his career as a violinist.
One August day 55 years ago, Gloria fell and skinned a knee. It became infected, she slipped into toxic shock and within three days she died.
Her husband had returned home just in time to say goodbye. Gloria and the children already had been living with her mother, Josephine Abboud, a widow who still was raising some of her own children.
“Our grandmother,” Danielle said, “was devastated when Mother died.”
Dubuc (pronounced Dubuque) considered dispersing his five children to live with relatives in Massachusetts.
The children's grandmother insisted that she would keep the children in her home.
“But Aunt Mary Jane decided there was no way Grandma would be able to take care of us five kids,” Danielle said, “plus still raise some of her own.”
After graduating from the College of St. Mary in Omaha, Mary Jane had entered government service, which took her to exciting places. Who knows where it would have led?
She didn't talk a lot about what she had done, but apparently it eventually entailed supervising administrative support staff for diplomats.
Said Danielle: “She was doing things that I don't think a lot of women were doing in those days.”
When Mary Jane's sister died, everything changed.
Gloria had encouraged reading, and Mary Jane continued that. The children read poetry to each other and listened to classical music, and learned to enjoy opera.
Mary Jane also provided financial support. Her brother, David, a real estate developer, found a plot near 93rd and Pacific Streets, and helped Mary Jane get a five-bedroom house built. It became a home for herself, for her mother and her children and for the five Dubuc kids — 13 people in all.
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Mary Jane worked at the Strategic Air Command at Offutt Air Force Base for about 30 years, part of the time editing a SAC magazine.
The children's father would send money, but he moved away and “married a lovely lady from Norway,” Danielle said, adding that she had a distant relationship with him. He died in 1990.
Children who lose parents often struggle, she said, perhaps from a sense of abandonment.
“Some can get a little on the wild side,” she said. “Mary Jane and I finally sat down when I was 16 and had a heart-to-heart talk. She said, 'I may not be your mother, but I am your guardian who takes care of you, and I can be your confidante and your friend.' ”
The children grew up well, but tragedy struck again. Ronald Dubuc, about to receive a law degree, died at 31 from leukemia.
The other two siblings are Michael, who lives in Council Bluffs, and Paul, in Omaha.
Ted, who worked 40 years in the computer industry, lives in Huntington Beach, Calif. His daughter, Nicole Dubuc, now 35, worked as a child actress in such TV shows as “Our House” and “Major Dad,” and today is a writer.
After Mary Jane retired, Ted took her to Paris, where she quickly picked up on the French language that she loved. Danielle took her to New York, where they dined at a restaurant where Mary Jane recalled seeing Frank Sinatra when she was a young woman.
At her funeral, she was described as a disciplinarian, matchmaker, friend — and a mother, even though never she claimed that last role.
“She was exceptionally bright,” Ted said. “She was also very religious, and she knew that if God had called her to this, then that was what she would do. She never looked back and never expressed regrets.”
The family is cleaning out the home she built long ago, coming across many heart-related gifts from her Valentine's Day birthdays and preparing to put the house on the market.
For the Dubuc kids who tragically lost their mother, she made that house a home.
“She is my hero,” Danielle said. “I don't know how anybody could do what she did. This is the end of an era.”