Floral 07

Jeanne M. Habein

July 17, 1929 ~ September 2, 2023 (age 94) 94 Years Old


On Sept. 2, 2023, in her 94th year, surrounded in love and wrapped in the arms of her savior, Jeanne Habein died peacefully. Born Jeanne Elizabeth MacGillivray in her parents’ home at 84 Maplewood Avenue in Gloucester, Massachusetts, on July 17, 1929, the middle of three daughters of Margaret Ruth and William A. MacGillivray, she arrived at the dawn of the Great Depression.

Born to a working class family in a working class town, Jeanne grew up in multicultural Gloucester, where many of the fishermen and trades people had immigrated from Portugal, Italy, Lebanon, Scotland, Ireland and Eastern Europe. Her godmother and namesake, Elizabeth Khoury, taught her Lebanese cooking, and she passed on “Aunt” Lizzie’s lessons to her sons and daughter-in-law.

Her parents imbued her with values that shaped her life. They could afford to buy her one new pair of shoes for the school year, but they bought good shoes. Reading was everything. She became a connoisseur of British mysteries and espionage novels and frequently read aloud to her boys at the dinner table from Josephine Tey, Dorothy L. Sayers and especially John le Carre. She spoke in complete, grammatical sentences, employed a rich vocabulary, expressing complete thoughts and opinions. She inherited her father’s love of politics and could hold her own in any argument. She loved people and befriended everyone she met, often inviting them to dinner, and she remembered every detail about them and their family. She was a dear friend to her dear friends.

After high school in Gloucester, she enrolled in nurses’ training in Boston, and from nursing school she enlisted in the Air Force to see the world. She was posted to the Wiesbaden Air Base in what had been the American Sector of occupied Germany. There, in 1955, Lieutenant MacGillivray met and married her one true love, Captain H. C. “Pete” Habein, Jr., M.D. They challenged and entertained each other. They loved and laughed and cried together. With their infant son, Peter, they returned stateside 18 months later to Rochester, Minnesota, where Pete began a surgical fellowship at the Mayo Clinic. Son Jared was born in Rochester, and from there they moved to Billings, where Pete joined the surgical practice of Dr.’s Benson and Marchello in the Surgical Clinic. Son Christopher was born in Billings.

With Pete devoting every waking moment to his busy practice, Jeanne raised her boys and supported her husband’s career. She joined the Medical Wives Auxiliary, the Junior League, worked at the Next-to-New Shop, joined P.E.O., the Westerners, and sundry book clubs and cooking clubs. She embraced Billings while longing for Gloucester and the sea. Over several summers, she bundled her boys aboard the Northern Pacific for Chicago, changing trains to Boston, where her father met her to drive the family home to Gloucester. With summers on Cape Ann, she introduced her boys to the place and people she loved, to the sounds, smells, and accent of New England, to Good Harbor Beach and digging clams, catching mackerel, to the food, museums, shops, artists, and to the Red Sox.

She insisted that her boys be proficient in her kitchen, and she enlisted their help preparing everything she attempted. She was a consummate and chaotically creative cook, a warm and engaging hostess, who started with a clear vision of each gathering and worked doggedly to execute it. From guest list to place cards, from centerpiece to China to presentation, nothing was left to chance. Only the conversation ever rivaled the food at her table.

Sensitive and perceptive, she surprised her family with her resilience and determination. She survived the heartbreak of breast cancer in her 40s, and she endured the rigors of experimental chemotherapy to overcome hairy cell leukemia on three separate occasions in her 50s. She remained dignified and self-possessed; her sense of humor, her interest in others, her faith and the love of her family sustained her through it all.

Her grandchildren rewarded her perseverance. They call her “Nana” and brightened her days with their exploits in school and music, tennis and soccer and with their growing up, their friendships, their loves, their ups and their downs. She could not refrain from offering fashion advice and the use of her iron. She preferred French berets and sailor outfits to sweatpants and tee shirts. How she loved to hear them play Dona Nobis Pacem and sing Amazing Grace.

When Pete died in 2017, also at age 94, her light dimmed and her world shrank a little. She visited him in the cemetery on his 100th birthday on Aug. 18, 2023, and those closest to her could see her light going out.

Preceding her in death are her parents; her sisters, Shiela (Mastroiani) and Patricia (Malone); and her beloved husband, Pete. Surviving her are her sons, Peter (Theresa), Jared and Christopher (Judy); “fourth son” cousin Rick (Jessica) Habein; her grandchildren, Tyson (Sarah), Claire (Ryan), Abby (Jack), Laura (Bryce), Samuel, Emma and Grace; and her great-grandchildren, Sam, Jack and Emerson. Reunited, we hear Mom saying, “Oh, Pete!” and Dad, his arm around her, laughing his exuberant, warm, enveloping laugh. We’ll see you, Mom and Dad, around the campus.

We will celebrate the life of Jeanne M. Habein in the Spring.

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