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Mabel Lamontagne, wife of Red Arrow founder, dies at 105

MANCHESTER - Mabel Lamontagne, a former nurse whose husband founded the Red Arrow Diner in 1922, died this week at the age of 105, her son said.

Ray Lamontagne said his mother's life ended peacefully Monday at the nursing home in Rye where she had lived for the last five years.

"She had an absolutely full and complete life," he said.

Lamontagne said that in 1926, Mabel Filion was a nurse at Notre Dame Hospital, now the site of Catholic Medical Center. David Lamontagne sought treatment there for his nose, which had been broken a few times from his days as a professional fighter. David Lamontagne did not care for the hospital food, but did notice a young nurse from Newmarket and went back to one of his restaurants with a plan.

"He noticed the nurses eating bad, unusual food. He decided to woo mother by going back to the restaurant and bringing back lots of good food - and he asked mother for a date," he said.

Mabel accepted and the couple eventually married in 1930. David Lamontagne continued running the Red Arrow, which had five locations at one point, while raising his family on the West Side - just a few blocks from the hospital where he met his wife.

A former ice delivery man, Lamontagne saved his earning from deliveries and fight paydays to start the restaurant in 1922.

The Red Arrow still stands on Lowell Street. The family brought Mabel to the establishment to celebrate her 100th birthday in 2007, when a U.S. senator from Illinois happened to be there campaigning. Barack Obama could not stick around long enough for Mabel's arrival, but did wish her a happy birthday through her son.

"'I'm in here trying to campaign and all anyone wants to do is talk about your mother,'" Ray Lamontagne recalled Obama joking.

Obama did write a congratulatory note, which Mabel found a little unusual.

"She had no idea who he was," Ray Lamontagne said.

Obama sent more wishes for her 104th birthday, this time from the White House, one of many memories the family recalled while celebrating her life Monday night.

Lamontagne, who lives in Connecticut, said he grew up in a neighborhood where the goal of his peers was to get out of school and get a job as quickly as possible, but his mother placed a high value on education. The family sent him to Phillips Andover Academy, then Yale University. He also attended law school at Yale. Younger sister Rita attended Skidmore College.

"It was one of the things that made her kind of remarkable," Ray said of his mother. "She wanted something different for her children's education."

Her own education in nursing came about after she was getting an inoculation. Instead of turning away from the sight of the needle, Ray said his mother watched - much to the doctor's surprise.

"'I'm just curious how you're doing it,'" he said, recalling the story he has heard since childhood.

The doctor asked if she had considered being a nurse, prompting her to leave Newmarket and study at Notre Dame Hospital in Manchester.

Ray Lamontagne said his mother left nursing after marriage and raised the family, all at the same multi-family home on Coolidge Avenue.

Mabel's husband died in 1978, just before he turned 80. She is survived by her son, Ray, daughter Rita Bowlby of Portsmouth, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Ray Lamontagne said memorial arrangements are pending and may wait until after the holidays or possibly even into spring - depending on how soon the whole family could get together.

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Doug Alden may be reached at dalden@unionleader.com.


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