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By Steve Steinberg
Noe Valley has lost another of its oldtime merchants, with the passing of Lee Aubry on Aug. 3. Aubry, 79, owned the Mitre Box framing shop on 24th Street, from its founding in 1974 until she sold the business in 1991.
Aubry, who was also a Noe Valley resident, had been living in a hospice during her final months, according to her son Kim Aubry. She had been suffering from cancer as well as symptoms of Parkinson's disease.
Born and raised in Coney Island, New York, Aubry attended Queens College and then worked as a copywriter and interior designer. She also raised two sons, got married and divorced, and then, like so many others, decided to pull up stakes and "reinvent herself" in San Francisco.
The arts were a lifelong passion for Aubry, said Kim Aubry, who described his mom as a "talented artist and amateur musician." Opening the Mitre Box in 1974, three years after she arrived in San Francisco, was one way for her to channel her artistic energies. Although the Mitre Box eventually became and still is a full-service frame shop, the store started out as a do-it-yourself art studio and was somewhat of a pioneer on 24th Street. "Customers would bring in their prints, paintings, and photos and would get a lesson in assembling the matte and frame," recalled Kim. Local residents loved the hands-on approach, he said, and appreciated Lee Aubry's personal design advice.
During Aubry's tenure, the Mitre Box tended to employ aspiring artists and art students as a way of elevating the shop's quality of service. Many of those former employees went on to become established artists or gallery owners or to open their own framing shops.
Servio Gomez, proprietor of Back to the Picture framers on Valencia Street, was one of Aubry's protégés. "Lee was a mentor and supporter to me," Gomez says. "She was always encouraging." He recalled that after she sold the Mitre Box, Aubry would sometimes come to him for her own framing projects.
Aubry was also a smart businesswoman, buying up the property at 1303 Castro as a hedge in case she ever lost her lease at the Mitre Box. "She believed the business part of business should be taken seriously," said her son. Some years later, she opened a branch of the Mitre Box on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley.
After she retired in 1991, Aubry did some traveling, spent time with her four grandchildren, and puttered around with remodeling projects at her 23rd Street home. She also dedicated herself to such causes as Parkinson's research, election finance reform, and world peace.
Besides her grandchildren, Lee Aubry is survived by a brother and sister-in-law, her sons Kim and Rick, and their wives.
Donations in her name can be sent to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, Attn: Tribute Gifts, Church Street Station, P.O. Box 780, New York, NY 10008-0780. For further information, go to www.michaeljfox.org or call 1-800-708-7644.