Thursday, July 18, 2024

Mary-Catherine Deibel. (Photo: Morgue Obituaries)

Mary-Catherine Deibel – a restaurateur known to the Cambridge community as the “unofficial mayor of Harvard Square” – passed away at age 72 on Thursday.

Run with co-owner Deborah Hughes, her restaurant UpStairs on the Square, originally UpStairs at the Pudding, served celebrities and raised the bar of fine dining in Boston. It closed in 2013 after 31 years.

“I have two life partners, my husband and Deborah – and I probably spend more time with Deborah,” Deibel told Boston College Magazine in 2004, just a few years after the second iteration of UpStairs opened.

Deibel handled the front of the restaurant, greeting guests warmly, while Hughes was the chef. The pair reflected on memories with the Harvard Crimson in 2013 such as hosting Ella Fitzgerald, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone and Robin Williams. Deibel told the Globe five years ago that her favorite customer was Madeleine Albright.

The restaurant was also known for its pops of color and animal prints, a unique take on upscale dining that earned them a place as one of the top restaurants in the area.

She was a member of the Harvard Square Business Association since the 1980s through her restaurant, and was elected president of its board of directors in 2022 – the first woman in that role. Deibel spent her career bettering Harvard Square. After her time as a restaurateur, she turned to her other love, classical music, and fundraised for the Longy School of Music, as well as working as director of development for Brattle Street’s Cambridge Center for Adult Education.

“She knew a lot of people from all walks of life and she will be sorely missed and she’s irreplaceable,” said Denise Jillson, executive director of the HSBA. “You can really get a sense for the void that is in Harvard Square as a result of Mary-Catherine’s passing.”

Jillson met Deibel in 2007, and she said her approach to the presidency was unique.

“Her perspective on board business was different. Her starting point is always about people and about being gracious and inviting and hospitable,” Jillson said. “Her sheer hospitality was renowned.”

CCAE executive director Linda Burton said for the past six years, Deibel’s role allowed her to organize hugely successful fundraisers with her own unique twist, inviting restaurants – most of them run by friends – to serve a “taste of Cambridge,” Burton said.

“She also was strong and a force of nature,” Burton said. “I really looked at her as my partner at the Cambridge Center, so it’s a big loss for me. She has so much wealth of experience.”

Cambridge’s City Council honored Deibel on Monday, passing a resolution remembering her contributions as restaurateur and as director of development with the CCAE.

“Everybody was invited to her table,” councillor E. Denise Simmons said. “Cambridge, but in particular Harvard Square, is going to miss her energy, her presence, her commitment.”

Deibel, who passed away after an illness, leaves her husband Reid Fleming, a sister and two brothers., according to published reports.

Deibel will be honored at the CCAE’s dumplings-themed fundraiser on Thursday, which she organized before her illness. The center announced that family and friends are attending to “enjoy Mary-Catherine’s last great party that she created – she wouldn’t want it any other way.”