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Margaret Ulie survived London blitz as nursing student, cherished family

Margaret Ulie

Margaret Ulie

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Updated: January 17, 2013 6:40AM

When she was a girl at a dance in Ireland, Margaret Ulie’s partner made a snide remark about her father being a mere farmer.

She dropped her hands, turned on her heel and left the young man alone on the dance floor, gaping.

As a young nurse, she witnessed a physician prescribe what amounted to an overdose of medication. When Margaret questioned the doctor, he sputtered that he was right.

Politely but firmly, she insisted he re-think his calculations. He did, and discovered his error. Chastened, he thanked her for preventing a poisoning.

When she worked at a hospital in Rhodesia, she got around systemic discrimination by treating black Africans at the back door.

Strength and love were smelted together in Margaret Ulie, creating a woman who could stand up to anybody when she knew she was right, yet one who could also display inexhaustible forbearance with a patient whose catastrophic brain injury triggered episodes of screaming each day. “Oh, the poor thing,” she would say.

She died Wednesday at Rainbow Hospice Ark in Park Ridge at age 88.

She was 18-year-old Margaret Flynn when she left her home and family in Ireland to study nursing in England, as German weapons dispensed a deadly hail during World War II. Perhaps the most nightmare-inducing were the “Doodlebugs,” also known as V-1s (Vergeltungswaffen-1, or “Revenge Weapons”). These robot bombs buzzed above London like malignant insects.

When they went silent, the people who took shelter under tables and in subway tunnels died a thousand deaths. The silence signaled the Doodlebugs were about to explode — but no one knew where.

Mrs. Ulie and other hospital staffers would run for cover in the basement when the V-1s came.

It was a change from the quiet hamlet where she grew up, near Williamstown, in County Galway, Ireland. It was named “Farm” because that is what was there.

There was love, but not much of a future. Disease took her brothers, Vincent, Jimmy and Martin, said her son, Chuck. She recalled how she and her mother took a bus to the hospital in Galway when Martin was dying of rheumatic fever in his 20s. “Where were you? I was waiting for you, mom,” he told them. “Now when I go, don’t be sad, because if you’re sad, then I’ll be sad.”

Once, she badly cut her hand. But there was a country dance that night, a thrill for a girl on a steady diet of farm labor. “If she told her parents, they wouldn’t let her go, and she just wrapped up her hand in a towel so she wouldn’t miss the dance,” her son said.

She left to study nursing in England. The training was rigorous, and she was proud that she was one of only three or four girls — out of the original 20 students — to stick it out.

Her visits to Ireland were cause for jubilation. “Aunt Margaret” sent home money, and parcels of clothes and books. She gave her brother John a 2-by-4 inch transistor radio. “That transistor had pride of place on the mantelpiece and was turned on only for the news and a few chosen programs,” said her nephew, Martin.

After she completed her education, “She had to give some years with the English foreign service in what is now Zimbabwe,” said her son.

She remembered sitting at a Rhodesian café as the staff ignored her and her tablemates. It was Margaret who realized the Rhodesians were less than thrilled about serving English colonialists. “I’m Irish,” she told them.

“All of a sudden, the service got a lot better,” her son said.

At the hospital, she tended a woman who died giving birth to her ninth child, said her niece, Peggy Mall. When she informed the woman’s husband, he said: “How is the baby? That’s all I care about.” She never forgot his callousness.

She immigrated to Chicago. At a dance, she met Charles Ulie, who taught math and science at the American Institute of Baking. They wed and raised their family in Park Ridge, where they liked to eat at the Pickwick Restaurant.

Mrs. Ulie worked at St. Francis Hospital, did private nursing and worked in a psychiatric unit at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital.

She loved hot tea and toast and marmalade, and the music of the Clancy Brothers. She was a news junkie who often knew about breaking stories before anyone else.

Mrs. Ulie did her own hair to save money, buttressing her styles with Aqua Net hairspray.

She never wanted fancy holiday gifts. “As long as I have my husband and my boys here, that’s all I need for Christmas,” she would say.

“She knew where everything was in the house,” her son said, whether it was a toy from childhood, or which cabinet held supplies for a class project.

Mrs. Ulie was also the family’s own health clinic. “You could always call her and say ‘I don’t feel well,’ and she would say ‘I’ll get my medical book,’ ’’ said her niece, Peggy Mall.

Once, Peggy accidentally dripped bleach on her rug. “Oh, that’s ok, it looks fine,” Mrs. Ulie fibbed, even though it left a permanent stain.

She is also survived by her son, Patrick. Her husband Charles, her sister, Katherine O’Malley, and her brothers, John and Patrick, also died before her. Visitation is 3 to 9 p.m. Monday at Ryan-Parke Funeral Home, 120 S. Northwest Hwy., Park Ridge. Her funeral mass begins at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at St. Paul of the Cross Church, 320 S. Washington, Park Ridge. Burial is at All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines.

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