BRANDON — The career Pat LeJeune chose didn't pay a lot of money, but the fringe benefits made it all worthwhile.
Since the late 1990s, Mrs. LeJeune provided food for thousands of needy families in Hillsborough County. The privilege of being able to do that, she would tell people, made all her hard work worthwhile.
"All she wanted to do was help people," said her husband, Tom LeJeune. "She never wanted a raise. She'd say, 'The meager salary I get is fine. They can keep the rest.' She was a class act."
Mrs. LeJeune, the executive director of the Nativity Catholic Church Food Bank and Food Pantry, died Jan. 11 after a brief battle with cancer. She was 68 years old.
She was active until the last few weeks of her job, and she never resigned or retired from her position.
"Even though she had cancer, we all thought she'd be coming back," said Tessie Falkenbach, a volunteer administrator with the Brandon church's food bank and pantry.
The food bank collected and distributed food to churches around the county, which in turn fed some 1,500 families each week. The food pantry also gave food baskets directly to families in the area near Nativity Catholic Church.
As the population in Brandon and Hillsborough County grew and harsh economic times pushed more families below the poverty line, Mrs. LeJeune always managed to keep the shelves at the food bank full of donated food.
"She was a great believer that God would provide, and he always did," Falkenbach said. "There were so many times when we'd say we needed something, and then the next thing you knew we had it."
It didn't always come easily, though. Mrs. LeJeune worked hard to persuade local businesses and individuals to keep donations coming.
Her passion for helping people was contagious, and potential donors found it hard to say no.
"She was very inspiring," Falkenbach said. "She just made people want to do things for others."
Mrs. LeJeune was born in Wausau, Wis. She met her husband when they were students at Marquette University. His job brought them to Brandon in 1964.
They had two sons and a daughter. One son, T.J., died two years ago.
After her children were grown, Mrs. LeJeune began her volunteer work.
She was devoutly religious — her husband said he always thought she'd become a nun if he died before she did — and much of her volunteer work was through her church. When Sister Constance Arsenault, who founded the food bank and pantry in 1983, retired in the late 1990s, she asked Mrs. LeJeune to take over as director.
"She was just an amazing person," Falkenbach said. "I don't know what we're going to do without her."
Besides her husband, Mrs. LeJeune is survived by her son Doug, daughter Jacqueline and her grandchildren.
Marty Clear can be reached at [email protected]