The last surviving Wright brothers family member to have known Orville Wright has died, according to her family.
Marianne Miller Hudec, 79, a Dayton native, died March 5 of heart failure at her home in Newton, Mass., according to her daughter, Katharine Hudec, a former television producer who created a PBS documentary on the Wright brothers.
A grandniece to Orville and Wilbur Wright, Marianne Hudec, a former librarian, shared some of the traits of her famous relatives with a penchant for intellectual curiosity and a fascination for ancient cultures that took her exploring from India to South America, her daughter said.
“She was extremely adventurous and unafraid,” she said. “She wanted to see everything, climb to the top of everything.”
Her mother spent most of her holidays with her parents at the home of Orville Wright on Hawthorn Hill in Oakwood, Hudec said. Wilbur Wright died in 1912.
“She was definitely one of those people who linked all the generations of our family together,” said Amanda Wright Lane, a great grandniece of the Wright brothers.
In a September 2000 oral history interview with the National Park Service, Hudec remembered her childhood with family trips to see Orville Wright. Then in his 60s and 70s, he performed magic tricks and always worked in his lab on Sundays.
“Uncle Orv always had a dozen interesting projects on his plate at one time, and must have had trouble deciding what to do next,” she told interviewer Ann Deines. “… I never quite knew what he did at the lab on Sunday, because he was always dressed in a suit when we arrived. Of course he never got dirty. He seemed to have the ability to do dirty work but not look dirty.”
Orville Wright loved to engage her father in “heated” political discussions, she said in the interview.
“Uncle Orv had slightly left of center political views, and my father was slightly right of center,” she told the interviewer. “I wouldn’t say either one of them were extremists, but Uncle Orv loved to bait my father. He’d get my father going, and Dad would start getting hot under the collar arguing with him about politics.”
One of her earliest memories of Orville Wright was at a ceremony where she and a cousin unveiled the Wright brothers monument above Huffman Prairie near Dayton. There, the famous brothers tested and refined the design of the airplane. A photo shows Marianne, then 5, sitting on the lap of Orville Wright at the ceremony in front of the monument.
“All of these important dignitaries had come from all over the world,” she said in a videotaped interview. “I was sort of amazed that all this fuss was being made over Uncle Orv because to me he was just my Uncle Orv.”
She donated Wright brothers artifacts to the Smithsonian, Wright State University and Dayton History at Carillon Historical Park, according to her family. “She grew up with all those artifacts in the basement because the museums weren’t interested in them yet,” Katharine Hudec said.
One artifact was a Wright propeller from 1904 and checks signed by the Wright brothers on display at Carillon, said Mary Oliver, Dayton History director of collections.
“It brings that history to life,” she said.
Lane said Hudec was often a reference for the family and authors on the history of the aviation pioneers. “I can’t tell you how many times we called to ask for her opinion or her recollection of our famous family,” she said.
Hudec’s husband of 46 years. Robert Hudec of Cleveland, preceded her in death. She is survived by two children and five grandchildren. A private burial is set for later this year.