Debbey Warren made her mark on this world in a quiet and unassuming way, always gracious and kind while putting the needs of others ahead of her own. She peacefully left this life on Thanksgiving, at her sister Janet’s home in Billings, with her son and sister by her side. She had been diagnosed with glioblastoma brain cancer a few short weeks before. When she received the diagnosis after emergency brain surgery on Nov. 6, she smiled her sweet infectious smile and reassured us, “It’s okay, I’ll get to be with Jack again.” Jack, her husband, had passed away just 18 months earlier after a four-year battle with multiple myeloma, during which time Debbey lovingly cared for him, never wavering in her devotion.
Debbey was born in Butte, America, on March 27, 1951, the first child of William “Bill” Rivera and Margaret “Peggy” Mountain. She was joined by her brother Ralph two years later, and by Janet five years after that. They enjoyed what Deb described as an “idyllic” childhood on the family ranch at Elk Park just outside of Butte, which had been homesteaded as a dairy farm by her Italian paternal grandfather, a Swiss immigrant. She spent her days on the ranch riding her horses Crackers and Joanne, exploring the countryside with her siblings and cousins, and helping her father and her Grandfather Joe make cheeses, sausages and wine. Debbey was also influenced by her mom’s Irish heritage, learning how to read tea leaves from her Grandma Lou, and embracing her dual ethnicity the way one can only do as a child of Butte.
Graduating fourth in her class in 1969 from Butte Central, Debbey was active in speech and debate and many service organizations, and her love for reading, the humanities, the arts and languages flourished. She took French in high school, but she had started compiling her own Italian dictionary at age 10, encouraged by her Grandmother Rose.
Debbey won many awards during high school, but it was a scholarship to Gonzaga University that opened the world to her. She participated in the Gonzaga-in-Florence program her junior year, and it remained one of the great experiences of her life. While in Italy, she immersed herself in the study of Italian, French and art history, and traveled throughout Europe, often hitchhiking with her friends on their student budgets. Her travels included trips to Bethlehem for Christmas, and to Biasca, Switzerland, where she was able to visit the childhood home of her Grandpa Joe and meet many relatives. Later in life, she spent countless hours doing painstaking genealogical research, connecting with distant relatives in multiple states and countries and sharing wonderful discoveries with her family.
Debbey graduated magna cum laude from Gonzaga in 1973 with a degree in Italian Studies. Her dream had been to be an interpreter at the United Nations. Remaining in Spokane and working a summer job at K-Mart, she met Marvin Brown and they married in Butte in 1974. From this union, her only child, Jeff, was born. She and Marvin divorced shortly thereafter. Debbey was devoted to Jeff, working long hours and making many sacrifices as a single mom to provide for him, with the love and support of her parents, who welcomed Debbey and Jeff into their home in Billings where they had moved shortly after Debbey’s wedding.
On June 15, 1991, Debbey went on a blind date with Jack Warren. This had been arranged by her sister and his brother, who worked together at the time. It was a match made in heaven. After a few short months, they each knew they had at last found their intellectual match and inseparable soulmate. They married on Oct. 7, 1995, after Jeff went off to college, and Debbey moved to Hardin to live with Jack on the family farm, in the home in which Jack grew up.
Shortly after marrying Jack and moving to Hardin, Debbey began working at First Interstate Bank as a teller. Over the course of 21 years, she continuously advanced at the bank and won many awards and promotions. At the time of her retirement to care for Jack in 2017, she managed community relations and marketing, a position in which she truly flourished. She was able to use her creativity, her communication skills as a longtime member of Toastmasters, her intellect, and her dedication to helping others to the fullest in this role. She loved her FIB family. Debbey immersed herself in the Hardin community, serving as an office on the Chamber of Commerce, as a member of the City/County Planning Board, on the Board of the Big Horn County Historical Society, and was as an active member of Kiwanis, as well as various other groups and organizations. She volunteered hundreds of hours to worthy causes and annual events, and she was fittingly honored as the Grand Marshal of the Little Bighorn Days Parade in 2016.
Debbey exemplified what it means to be a loving human. She was selfless, forgiving, patient, kind and humble. She gave so much and expected so little in return. She always answered the phone with, “Well hi, how are you doing today?” And she truly meant it. She loved her family deeply and cherished phone calls, cards and letters, and precious time spent with them. She enjoyed wonderful trips with Jeff to Nashville and New York City to attend her niece Sarah’s and nephew Sam’s weddings, made possible by Jack’s cousin Bob Beary and his wife Laura caring for Jack in her absence. She adored her little grandniece Eleanor, and was looking forward to welcoming another grandniece in January. Upon Jack’s death, she moved back to Billings, where she lived within two miles of both Ralph and Janet and was closer to Jeff in Missoula. This final chapter of her life was cut cruelly short by a devastating and fast-growing cancer. She never lost her beautiful smile and was more concerned with how her family and friends were taking the news than she was with her own suffering.
Debbey was preceded in death by her sweet Jack “Jax”; her parents; grandparents; numerous aunts and uncles; and a stillborn niece, Jessica. She is survived by her son, Jeff Brown; her brother Ralph Rivera; her sister, Janet Rivera; her niece, Sarah Micklewright (husband Patrick and daughter Eleanor); her nephew, Sam Urlacher (wife Sophie); her cousins, Mary Obenhoff, Judie Rowe, Jackie VanHazel, and Mike Rowe; and numerous other extended family members and dear friends, near and far, old and new.
The family would like to thank the wonderful staff at Saint Vincent Healthcare for the excellent care she received there, and the caring staff of Compassus Hospice who helped to ensure that Debbey could comfortably spend her final days at Janet’s home. We will have a celebration of her life next summer, when it is safe for us to gather. Until then, please honor her by living your life as Debbey did, with a big smile while in the service of others.
Memorials can be made to Big Horn County Historical Society, 1163 Third St. E., Hardin, MT 59034 (www.bighorncountymuseum.org) or to the “Gonzaga-in-Florence Legacy Fund, c/o Gonzaga University, Advancement Office, 502 E. Boone Ave., Spokane WA 99258-0098.
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