June 10, 2024

Mary Irwin Bloomer, 94, drew her last breath on Sunday, May 26, at Ida Culver House in Seattle, Washington. She was preceded in death by her husband of forty-eight years, Bruce H. "Red" Bloomer, without whom she lived on for twenty-six more; her eldest brother, John Maynard ("John M") Irwin, who perished in childhood; her older brothers William Haskew Irwin, Jr., and his wife, Mary Burkhart Irwin, of Knoxville, Tennessee, and Joseph Bowman Irwin, and his wife, Georgia May Rogers Irwin, of Maryville, Tennessee; and her older sisters Dorothy Gene Irwin Barger, and her husband, United States Army Major Charles Millard Barger, of Newport News, Virginia, and Wanda Virginia Irwin Auerbach, of Madison, Wisconsin.

The five Irwin siblings were close over their entire lives, and from childhood were known among themselves as Hakka, Herb, Jo-bub, Banner, and Parrot Tail. Mary, the youngest, was the Parrot Tail, affectionately known as "Perut."

Mary is survived by her daughters, Jennifer Bloomer Segrest (Robert) of Blue Ridge, Georgia, and Sarah Katherine Bloomer, M.D. (Edward Weinberger, M.D.) of Seattle; by her four grandchildren: Sarah Elizabeth Starnes (Cameron) of Roanoke, Virginia, Kate Rebecca Weinberger (Matt Barnes) of Seattle, Eli Weinberger (Sarah Miller) of Snoqualmie, Washington, and Laura Barrett Segrest, of Atlanta; two great-grandchildren, Jade Leah Karpen, of Roanoke, and Finley Arthur Weinberger, of Snoqualmie; by twelve nieces and nephews, and eighteen grandnieces and grandnephews; and by her adored brother-in-law and good friend, longtime University of Wisconsin Professor Robert Auerbach, the forever-true love of her sister Wanda.

Mary Nell Irwin was born a child of rural Appalachia, near Powell Station, in East Tennessee, on April 3, 1930, the youngest of five surviving children who grew up in the further impoverishment of The Great Depression. Her family possessed no material wealth, but life was enriched by love, laughter, nature, music, and attentive parents determined that their brood would have access to books, play the piano, and be well-educated. The seven Irwins even traveled across the United States to California, in an aged jalopy, stopping at Carlsbad Caverns and The Grand Canyon - thanks to their father's request that money provided him for more luxurious solo travel to a postal workers' convention be used to fund the trip-of-a-lifetime for his family.

Eventually, Mary would follow Wanda to Eastern Kentucky's ÅBerea College, which - to this day - offers no-cost, work-study education to the children of Appalachia and others in need. Education and Family were Irwin family watchwords: the most important words in the English language.

Her studies would be interrupted, that first year, by the sudden death of her father, prompting a return home to help her mother. But Mary never lost her hunger for education. Years later, with her daughters in high school, she completed both undergraduate and graduate degrees at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, Tennessee, and became a mathematics teacher at Dobyns-Bennett High School in nearby Kingsport, where, for twenty years, she was a popular and much-loved teacher of algebra and calculus. One year, she earned a Teacher of the Year award, which sent her to be honored in Washington, D.C.

Mary adored mathematics. For years, her daily pleasure was to rise before the sun, so that she could sit in silence with a mug of coffee, and work challenging math problems before others awakened.

And Mary adored Bruce Bloomer.

Just after her twentieth birthday, in 1950, she married her brother Bill's best friend and baseball teammate, "Red" Bloomer. For their wedding, she wore a borrowed, silk satin gown two sizes too large for her tiny five-foot frame. Captured in a photograph, it was a subject, over the years, of piteous good humor. After the wedding, Mary had hoped to attend law school; seventeen months later, their first child, Jenny, was born. Less than two years later, Kathy arrived, with a headful of her father's red hair; and Mary's own dreams turned towards dreams for her daughters.

She was a lifelong feminist, with an avid interest in politics. An early reader of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, she devoured daily newspapers, and watched every minute of the 1973 Senate Watergate Hearings, overseen by her distant cousin, Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee. She enjoyed few things more than sitting with her sisters in their mother's kitchen, "yakking" about politics and women's rights.

Mary had no great fondness for animals, yet endured a dozen dogs and cats, an orphaned groundhog, various and sundry guinea pigs, hamsters, and turtles, and an orange newt which vanished into her new sofa and reappeared, months later - all for the sake of her daughters' happiness. She sewed most of their clothing, and taught them to make soap and to pour candles, in her kitchen. She drove them many two-lane, mountain-road miles to the county library, every Thursday after school. She entered the workforce to send them to New England women's colleges.

She played the organ at her church. She 'antiqued' one of her family's two pianos orange. She was an accomplished painter of portraits in oils. In her late years, she would embrace the internet, and daily played Scrabble online with strangers.

Mary Bloomer lived a life of creativity, curiosity, inventiveness, sly wit, and a blend of extraordinary intelligence, self-deprecating humor, girlish charm, and a resolute refusal of prejudice or snobbery of any kind. Mary Nell Irwin Bloomer - who hated the 'Nell' - was an exceptional American woman whose life spanned two remarkably different centuries.

She was at home in both.

The funeral service is private. In lieu of floral tribute, the family gratefully suggests that donations in memory of Mary might be given to Berea College, in Berea, Kentucky.