Maureen Mulhall’s early years were as blissful as those of any child born to a working-class Irish family in the 1920s, relatives say, playing with five siblings who often piled in together for boat rides in the nearby Lough Key.
But her dad died unexpectedly when she was 12, and she left school after eighth grade to work. It was while Maureen was a cook at the Dublin residence of the American ambassador to Ireland that she fell in love with the embassy’s head groundskeeper.
With help from the ambassador’s Omaha family, the young couple emigrated in 1953 — and the petite and strong-willed Maureen became a founding force behind today’s thriving Mulhall’s nursery and landscaping operation.
Family members describe her as the “diligent counterweight to her husband John’s entrepreneurial spirit.” She was mostly private, while he was the face of the business.
Her greatest pride, they add, was family, particularly the grandchildren she would nudge to obtain academic degrees she never had.
“Although she may look small, she is mighty,” granddaughter Macy Mulhall wrote in a school profile about her role model grandma. “And I might add, has quite the sense of humor.”
Sign up for The World-Herald's afternoon updates
Receive a summary of the day’s popular and trending stories from Omaha.com.
Maureen Mulhall was 97 when she died Friday. Funeral services are 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church at 14330 Eagle Run Dr.
She will be buried in the city where she and John raised four boys. In addition to her husband, Maureen was preceded in death by son Kevin. Survivors include sons Jim, Sean and Dan and nine grandchildren.
Sean and Dan are second-generation owners and managers of the Mulhall business that today employs a few hundred people. They describe their mom as a remarkable woman who “kept things going,” often from behind the scenes.
She wrote all the checks. She sent out every company invoice and did all the bookkeeping for the first 25 years of the business. Her sons say Maureen was the business’s first stocking clerk, first custodian, first collections agent.
As recalled in Macy’s school paper, in 1972, John showed wife Maureen some land on the outskirts of town where he wanted to move the business. She told him: “Don’t buy it. No one will ever find us out here.”
But they sealed the deal on the 120th Street and West Maple Road grounds, where the business is still based. Son Dan said not much but farm fields was around the tract at the time.
It was then, at age 50, that Maureen finally got her driver’s license.
Sean said that most notable to him was his mother’s intense affection for her grandchildren and a special push for the granddaughters to excel and be educated and self-reliant. (Macy is a chemical engineer, and the other girls are in college.)
“She was one of the strongest women I have ever ... will ever know,” Sean said.