SCARBOROUGH – Mary Kane started taking care of others as a child and never stopped.

Her mother was widowed while pregnant with her sixth child, so Mrs. Kane, the eldest at 9 years old, stepped up to help the family.

During much of her career, she advocated for workers’ rights and, after her retirement from a factory, she looked after schoolchildren.

“When we were cleaning out her apartment, two of her dear elderly friends were there. They said, ‘We’ve never met anybody who was so concerned about other people,’” said Paula Nadeau of Waterboro, Mrs. Kane’s daughter.

“I thought, ‘What better compliment could you give a person?’ “

Mrs. Kane, a longtime Portland resident who also lived in Windham, died Sunday at Maine Veterans Home. She was 88.

Mrs. Kane was born in 1922 to Beatrice and Andrew DeRice, immigrants from Italy.

In 1945, she married Roger Kane, who died in 1977. Nadeau, their only child, grew up always knowing how loved she was.

Her feisty streak was one of Mrs. Kane’s most well-known traits.

It was especially pronounced when it came to her sense of justice.

Mrs. Kane’s mother would say, “Your mother would tell the president of the United States to go to hell,” Nadeau recalled. “If she ever had to speak her mind, she never held back.”

It may have been her spirited nature and sense of justice that made Mrs. Kane think she would have liked to be a lawyer, had she continued her education.

Instead, she worked for years at the B&M Baked Beans factory in Portland where she was a union activist.

Long the only woman there involved in such work, she organized the workers, helped negotiate many contracts and was proud of her role in securing retirement benefits for workers.

“She respected the dignity in other people,” her daughter said.

When she was 62, Mrs. Kane retired from B&M.

Not one to stay home and knit booties and afghans, her daughter said, Mrs. Kane began the next phase of her career.

She volunteered at Maine Medical Center and worked as an assistant at a nursery school before landing a teacher’s aide position at Plummer Motz School in Falmouth.

Her love of the children and the work kept her in the post for 19 years.

Mrs. Kane was popular with the school staff.

Her daughter said they found her adorable, perhaps partly because her polished look and well-mannered exterior could belie the feistiness that lurked below.

She could employ her fake shy smile — one that said she was simply a sweet old lady.

But beware to those who crossed her.

When her daughter imagines her now, Mrs. Kane is smiling her devilish smile, letting her know she’s happy.

“It’s an aren’t-I-sweet grin,” she said, “with a aren’t-I-cute twinkle in her eye.”

 

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at: [email protected]