Published in Orange County Register on December 19, 2012
Mary Jean Hayes Rus
Rus, Mary Jean, of Laguna Hills, passed away on September 29.
Born Mary Jean Hayes in 1923 to a pioneer family in Provo, Utah,
she moved with her parents and three brothers to Washington
DC in 1930, where her father became chief patent attorney in the
A serious student, in 1940 Mary Jean was valedictorian of her
class at Washington's historic Western High School (1940).
But throughout her life she was also social and playful, serving as president of her high
school sorority, playing sports, and being selected princess of the National Cherry
Blossom Festival's first royal court in 1939. Following high school, she went to Bryn Mawr
College, where she studied French and German literature, graduating in 1945. She
married her high school sweetheart, Jan Rus, and remained devoted to him for 68 years
After her husband Jan finished his wartime service in the Navy, Mary Jean saw him
through college and then law school, while bearing the first two of five children. In 1951,
like so many young families, they came to Southern California, drawn by jobs in the
booming aerospace industry. They quickly settled in La Habra. While Jan went to work at
North American Aviation in Downey, Mary Jean took on the role that she found most
fulfilling the rest of her life, raising and teaching children.
Three more children were born in La Habra, so that at one point there were five under ten
years of age. Through the 1950s and early 1960s she served as a frequent volunteer in
her children's schools and activities such as Little League and the Boy and Girl Scouts.
She also wrote a regular column for the La Habra Star.
When her youngest child was old enough to be independent, however, she chose to
continue her work with young children, becoming an elementary teacher in Tustin.
Mary Jean, Jan and family returned to Washington DC in 1968, where Jan joined
California friends in Richard Nixon's presidential campaign.
For the next twenty years the Ruses lived in Bethesda, Maryland. Jan also worked on
both of Ronald Reagan's campaigns, while Mary Jean continued her career as an
elementary school teacher in suburban Maryland. Eventually, however, she joined her
husband in downtown Washington, becoming assistant to the dean of graduate medical
education at The George Washington University School of Medicine.
Jan and Mary Jean had grown up in the DC area, and beyond the frequent travel and
political excitement of the Nixon, Ford and Reagan years, took great pleasure in
renewing childhood friendships and serving as frequent hosts to family and friends from
California. Upon retirement in 1988, they returned to Orange County, moving to Laguna
Hills, where they remained until moving to Regents Point in Irvine in 2011.
Through all of these years Mary Jean volunteered as a docent at the Bowers Museum in
Santa Ana, and spoke often of her joy in teaching both elementary school children in the
museum itself, and the elderly through the Bowers outreach programs. She was the
primary organizer behind the museum's outreach interactive program "Remembering
Vintage Fashion," and continued to visit retirement communities until the summer before
For more than two decades Mary Jean battled various forms of cancer. She was never
afraid to answer questions about this, but never brought it up herself. Even after deciding
against a further round of chemotherapy in early 2012, queries about how she was doing
were quickly turned around into questions about the questioner, how were YOU doing,
what were you up to, what did you think of the world?
Most of all, she often said, she thought the most important thing she had ever done, the
one thing she always wanted to do, was be with children, teaching them to be
considerate of each other, to find out what they were good at and to use their
imaginations to pursue it, and finally, to be open to what the world had to offer. Her
children, who were all by her side on her last waking day, and their children, many of
whom were also with her the last week of her life, are more grateful than we can say for
the lifetime of love and wisdom she shared with us and her wonderfully positive attitude.
She is survived by her husband, Jan Rus, her five children and their spouses, Jan Rus Ill
(Diane), Ron Rus, Mary Rus Saunders (Charles), Lois Rus Gifford (Richard) and Claudia
Rus Koide (Roger). She also had ten grandchildren.
Her family will hold a celebration of her life in late December. Donations may be made in
her name to the Women's Cancer Research Foundation in Newport Beach, CA.