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Mary Duggan Philbin

May 26, 1922 April 16, 2020
Mary Duggan Philbin
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Obituary for Mary Duggan Philbin

Somehow, it says so much about Mary Duggan Philbin that one of the “little kids” on the block who grew up next-door to the Philbin family wrote to Mary’s children after her death, “Your Mom was the absolute epitome of class, grace, wit, intelligence, beauty, serenity and kindness.” So many others have shared their memories of being welcomed by Mary and drawn into the love (and occasional chaos) of the Philbin household. She created a home that happily took in all visitors and served as a refuge, snack bar, playroom, and gathering place to celebrate all manner of occasions or to simply watch old movies on TV.

Mary and her two brothers, Jack and Bud, grew up on Mayfield Avenue in the Austin neighborhood, and attended St. Catherine of Siena grade school. Her parents, John and Bernadine Duggan, were Chicago Public School teachers. The friends Mary made “on her tricycle” were still friends eight decades later, as were her friends from Trinity High School, from which she graduated in 1939.

Mary attended Chicago Teachers College, but on the day she graduated in 1943, she went straight to apply for a job with United Airlines at a time when nothing was newer, more exotic, and more adventuresome than the burgeoning field of commercial air travel. She was a stewardess for ten years, starting out on DC-3s--propeller planes with 21 seats--and she traveled the world. In 1947, at the age of 25, she was asked to work with United to help Philippine Airlines resume operations following World War II. She took the 8,000 mile journey to Manila and landed knowing no one there, but cheerfully faced the challenge of training local women for new jobs in the airline industry.

In 1951, Mary became the first woman to serve as Chief of Stewardess Service for United Airlines in Chicago, until she was forced to retire from that position after her marriage in 1953, due to what was then airline policy--married women could not fly. “I fought hard to keep my job,” she wrote later for the United stewardess alumni magazine, Clipped Wings; “Why couldn’t I be married? The men were, weren’t they?” But the no-marriage policy was not overturned until 1971.

Mary and her husband, John Fay Philbin, were married for 59 years, until his death in 2012, and had seven children: Mimi, Marianne, John, Joe, Madeleine, Meg and Jim. Mary and John loved raising a big family, especially in a neighborhood where big families were common. They were actively involved in the Oak Park community, where John served a term as president after retiring from a career with the Archdiocese of Chicago.

Mary was deeply committed to her Catholic faith, and she and John spent years volunteering for the Christian Family movement and the Cana Conference, through which they made many cherished friends. They were longtime members of St. Edmund parish in Oak Park and staunch supporters of Catholic education, sending all seven children through Catholic grade school and high school.

When age began to creep up on Mary--but only slightly!--she moved into St. Mary’s Home in Lincoln Park, where she made fast friends with other residents. She had no lack of visitors and kept as engaged as ever with children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and many friends. She was always in-the-know regarding whatever was happening in the lives of her loved ones, and she kept up on current events--probably one of the few 97-year-olds who could both explain to her dinner companions what was going on in the impeachment hearings, and report to her grandchildren that Bruce Springsteen’s son had become a firefighter.

Mary died on April 16, 2020 at St. Mary’s Home during the Covid-19 pandemic. The staff at St. Mary’s cared for her expertly during all the years she was a resident, and kept her feeling safe, calm and loved in the midst of an unprecedented global health crisis.

Mary adored her family and was a treasured friend to many. Her generous spirit lives on and inspires those who remember with love her warmth, humor and kindness.

Beloved wife of the late John F.; loving mother of Mimi (Dave) Carlson, Marianne (Lloyd Sachs) Philbin, John (Gail) Philbin, Joseph (Cindy) Philbin, Madeleine Philbin, Meg (Marcus) McKinley and James (Margo) Philbin; cherished grandmother of 13; dear sister of the late John B. “Jack” Duggan and Rev. Joseph E. “Bud” Duggan; fond aunt and great-aunt of many.

Private interment was held in Queen of Heaven Cemetery. A memorial mass will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to St. Edmund Church or Little Sisters of the Poor-St.Mary’s Home.

To plant a tree in memory of Mary Duggan Philbin, visit the Tribute Store.

Memorial Contribution

Little Sisters of the Poor-St. Mary's Home

2325 N. Lakewood Ave.
Chicago, IL 60614

St. Edmund Church

188 S. Oak Park Ave.
Oak Park, IL 60302

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