Raising 11 kids didn't strain Mildred "Mimi" Bott's voice. It deepened it, and added range.
She could do lullabies, of course, specializing in "Les Petites Marionettes," a reflection of her French heritage. She could belt out a song as a member of the Char Valley Choraliers. Her firm voice came in handy when it was time to muster help for the holiday gatherings that inevitably occurred at her home on the corner of Chartiers and Orchard in Bridgeville. And there was her civic voice, which came out at Holy Child Parish in Bridgeville, at Mt. Lebanon High School where she organized a union, and at the polls where she worked annually as a Republican Committee member.
That's why the last few years of her struggle with Lou Gehrig's disease, which ended with her death Thursday at the age of 86, were so challenging.
"It was frustrating particularly to lose her voice," said Mrs. Botts' daughter B.J. Schneider. She used a Boogie Board tablet and an effective mixture of hand signs and facial expressions, but it wasn't the same. "She never accepted it."
She had readily accepted the burdens of others for so many years.
A lifetime resident of Bridgeville, except for a brief stint in Washington, D.C., during World War II, she married Francis Bott when she was just 21, after a six-week courtship.
He was a Crafton guy who was slated from an early age for the priesthood, but jumped off that train to become an Army forward observer in the Pacific theater.
After the war, he spied her while selling day-old bread from the truck of the Crafton bakery in which he worked.
Following the Roman Catholic traditions in which he was raised and which she readily adopted, they started a family right away, and didn't stop for nearly 20 years.
Mr. Bott worked in insurance while Mrs. Bott handled the brood. He lived with lymphoma for nearly a decade, adding, in the late 1960s, to her caregiver's burden that already included the kids and her mother and grandmother. Mrs. Bott was 42 when her husband died in 1969, with children ranging from ages 3 to 20.
To supplement the Social Security she received after her husband died, Mrs. Bott took a job in the Mt. Lebanon High School cafeteria, earning $2.35 an hour, Ms. Schneider recounted. She unionized the custodial workers, and later became the only woman on the janitorial staff.
Proving that union organizers can come in any political stripe, she worked for Republican candidates in Democratic Bridgeville, and even ran a losing race for tax collector.
None of that detracted from her role as the family's engine.
On a tight budget, she cooked in the French peasant style she'd learned at her grandmother's side. "My mother could definitely make something out of nothing," said Ms. Schneider.
Every holiday was celebrated at "Mimi's." That's where the volleyball net and horse shoe pit were. That's where the witch passed out homemade candy apples every Halloween. That's where one or the other uncle could always be counted on to go undercover as Santa Claus.
"Every holiday was her big holiday," said Ms. Schneider. "She was just entertaining."
"She was just a great presence in the family," said Bob Gross, Mrs. Bott's nephew, now of Vero Beach, Fla. "With all that she went through, she was still the center of the universe."
She buried a daughter, Mary. She helped one son to live with paranoid schizophrenia. She also saw her family tree blossom with 27 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren.
As amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease, began to degrade her nervous system, she leaned on her dog, Bowser, and then asked Ms. Schneider to move in with her. "Her wish was to live and die in this home that she's been in for 60 years," Ms. Schneider said.
She eventually moved, though, to an assisted-living center in Mt. Lebanon. Freed from any need to keep house, she started doing other residents' laundry and making coffee for busy staff. "She could help others that were worse off than her," said Ms. Schneider.
Besides Ms. Schneider, she is survived by her brother Joe, and her other nine children: Thomas, Michael, Dennis, William, Francis, Joseph, Peggy, Eugene and Elizabeth.
"She spoke with confidence," said Ms. Schneider, "so they hung on her every word."
Visitation is today from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Warchol Funeral Home in Bridgeville. A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated Monday at 10 a.m. at Holy Child Parish.
Rich Lord: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1542, or Twitter @richelord.