Mary Duggan Philbin died on April 16, 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, after a brief illness. Like all the corona victims, she was much more than a line in a death notice.

Born on May 26, 1922, she 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. She was a stewardess for 10 years and traveled the world.

In 1951, Mary became the first woman to serve as chief of Stewardess Service for United Airlines for the Chicago Region, 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.

In 1953, at St. Catherine of Siena Church, the world traveler married the boy-next-door, John Fay Philbin — her Austin neighbor, Chicago Teacher’s College classmate, and her brother Jack’s best friend. Soon after, Mary and John moved into Oak Park’s Ascension Parish. In 1963, they moved to East Avenue and St. Edmund Parish.

They were both deeply committed to their Catholic faith and spent years volunteering for the Cana Conference and the Christian Family Movement, through which they made many cherished friends.

They were staunch supporters of Catholic education, sending all seven children through Catholic grade school (Ascension and St. Edmund) and high school (Trinity and Fenwick). Mary created a welcoming home that served as a refuge, snack bar, playroom, and gathering place to celebrate all manner of occasions.

The Philbins were actively involved in the Oak Park community, where John served a term as village president after retiring from a career with the Archdiocese of Chicago. They were married for 59 years, until his death in 2012. 

When age began to creep up on her (slightly!) she moved into St. Mary’s Home in Lincoln Park. She was always in-the-know regarding whatever was happening in the lives of her loved ones, and she kept up on current events. 

The staff at St. Mary’s cared for her expertly during all the years she was a resident. Her generous spirit lives on and inspires those who remember her warmth, humor and kindness.  

Mary is survived by her children, Mimi (Dave) Carlson, Marianne (Lloyd Sachs) Philbin, John (Gail) Philbin, Joseph (Cindy) Philbin, Madeleine Philbin, Meg (Marcus) McKinley, and James (Margo) Philbin; her grandchildren, Maggie, Alex, Laura, Elizabeth, Matt, John, Clare, Willa, Martha, Genevieve, Lucy, Chloe and Rose; and she was the aunt and great-aunt of many. Her brothers, John B. “Jack” Duggan and Rev. J. Edward “Bud” Duggan, preceded her in death.

Private interment was held at 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 in Oak Park or Little Sisters of the Poor-St. Mary’s Home in Chicago.

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