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Publication: Ottawa Citizen, The add link
Issue: 29 August 2010, page B5
Title: IMELDA HUBERT 1910-2010
Web Link: link

A life full of love and grace

After serving Mackenzie King and Bennett, she raised 5 children

By Jennifer Pagliaro, The Ottawa Citizen August 29, 2010

Imelda Hubert's life was nothing if not blessed. Shortly after her birth in 1910, Hubert -- born Thivierge -- was brought to a small stone grotto on Montreal Road built that same year.

The impromptu pilgrimage was her mother's idea, in hopes her daughter would live a long and healthy life.

At the alcove with its Virgin Mary statue, Hubert's parents hoisted the baby girl aloft, presenting her to the shrine in exchange for their daughter's divine protection.

It's no wonder Hubert felt an affinity for the place, which she visited as often as she could later in life, calling it her "second home." She died of natural causes July 15, at the age of 100.

The youngest of six, Hubert moved with her francophone parents from Clarence Creek, Ont., to a farmstead in what was known as Blackburn Corners (now Blackburn Hamlet) where she attended the English public school.

Hubert's deep faith was fostered when she later enrolled at a private school run by the Daughters of Wisdom convent on Montreal Road, her daughter Monique Abercrombie said.

Her luck was tested when she was sent home with a mysterious illness.

Hubert's diligent mother made her drink hand-beaten eggnog with brandy every day for a year to cure her.

"It worked," said daughter Madeleine Henderson. (When Hubert was in her 40s and scars were discovered on her lungs, she would learn she had suffered from tuberculosis.) She completed high school in 1927, rare for a girl.

"My mom was one of the lucky ones." Abercrombie said In 1929, after working for two years at Le Droit, she was hired at $5 a week to work in prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King's office, and, when the government changed, prime minister R.B. Bennett's office.

On the second floor of the East Block, she scanned French-language newspapers and magazines for pertinent information.

Once, Hubert was summoned to the office of Harry Baldwin, King's principal private secretary.

At the request of the famously quirky prime minister, Hubert asked a local convent of cloistered nuns to say special prayers, "because some grave events were going on in the world and the prime minister was very worried," Henderson said her mother told her.

"He presumed that she was Catholic because she was a French-speaking Canadian," she said.

Hubert called the nuns to let them know a letter from King -- and presumably a cheque, Henderson laughed -- was on its way.

Of her century-long life, Hubert's children remember her as a pioneering woman in a man's world who learned to drive, kept a government job, and always wore a little blush.

In January 1939, at 29 years old, she married Gerald Hubert. When war was declared later that year, it brought an end to her career, because households were restricted to one income.

Raising her five children in a large wood and stucco Vanier home her husband built, Hubert made sure they were left wanting nothing.

All the children attended post-secondary schools and Hubert would cook from dawn to dusk to make sure the family ate three square meals a day.

As part of a regular family routine, on Sunday nights Hubert would sit at the piano -- which she was taught to play by older sister Juliette -- and lull her children to sleep before retiring to the kitchen table to catch up on current affairs in the newspaper.

"The love of her life was her family and her piano," Abercrombie said.

In her old age, Hubert came to live with Abercrombie and one of her grandsons. Hubert's two sisters were frequent visitors, sitting together at the piano stationed in the living room.

Hubert's children would come to the house every Sunday to drink coffee, play and sing songs.

To them, she was "Grandmamère," the great defender -- sticking up for the "weakest links" in the family, acting as a sympathetic ear and welcoming in-laws and extended family to her home.

At gatherings, Hubert could always be found cooking up a storm -- fancy sandwiches, homemade doughnuts and fudge.

For her, more guests just meant "adding more potatoes to the dish," Henderson said.

"She was always serving us," said daughter-in-law Camille Hubert. Her apron, she said, was stocked with a needle and thread -- at the ready to sew a stray button back in place.

Hubert was a woman of "unshakable faith" and resilience, her family said. She prayed daily and made donations every year for 50 years to convents in Ottawa.

When she was well into her 90s, she travelled eight hours into Quebec for the wedding of one of her grandchildren.

When it was clear Hubert had only days left this summer, her children gathered at their sister's home.

Her oldest son Pierre played softly on the piano in the living room while their mother lay upstairs.

She told them, in her wisdom: "The passage is long." When her time came, Pierre's song continued, carrying her peacefully to rest, as she had done so often for them.

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