NEMIC was saddened to learn of the passing of Mary Coffey on March 23, 2019. Coffey passed away after a two-and-a-half-year battle with cancer.
“On behalf of everyone at NEMIC, TABB and the ICB, I send our condolences to Mary’s family and friends,” said Dave Bernett, NEMIC administrator. “Mary was a remarkable woman and she opened doors and set precedents for other women coming up behind her in the industry. Her passing leaves a huge void at Local 19 and beyond.”
A long-time member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 19, Coffey blazed a trail as the first woman to be certified in numerous certifications by the International Certification Board (ICB) and the Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau (TABB). During her distinguished career, Coffey was a business owner, supervisor, and instructor for Local 19 and also served as a certification exam proctor and subject matter expert for the ICB/TABB.
In 2010, when Coffey was inducted into the ICB/TABB Hall of Fame for her accomplishments, she said, “I would prefer that being the first woman at anything wasn’t a big deal. Being a woman should be secondary. Being a female doing something shouldn’t be special.”
“But it was special,” said her daughter, Mary Scott. “My mother was amazing and humble and my best friend. She taught us so much.”
Growing up in a sheet metal family, Coffey wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a sheet metal worker. Why not, three of her brother’s had. But in the 1960s, after graduating High School, Coffey wasn’t permitted to join the union. Instead, she went to college and majored in health and physical education, married and started her family.
In the 1970s, once the unions opened their doors to women, she was too old to apply for an apprenticeship. It wasn’t until Coffey was 31, and went to work for a contractor who decided to unionize, that she got the opportunity to follow her dream of becoming a sheet metal worker. The newly unionized contractor tested employees for apprenticeships, including Coffey, and she surpassed the requirement and became a journeyman.
Once she was in the industry, at the insistence of her father, Coffey took a Testing, Adjusting and Balancing course.
“I’m so glad I did. I loved it the first night of class. It fit with me,” Coffey said in a 2010 interview.
Coffey is survived by her three children, Eugene Healey, Christopher Healey and her daughter Mary Scott; and four grandchildren.
“She had a real passion for empowering women,” said Scott. “She often donated to Women for Women International,” an organization dedicated to helping marginalized women in war torn countries learn life, business and vocational skills. “Her generosity was incredible.”
That generous spirit extended to her family at Local 19 as well.
“She was generous to a fault,” said Scott. “Probably to her own detriment. Up until a few weeks before her passing, she was still teaching two times a week at Local 19. Last I spoke with them, they hadn’t found anyone to take over for her.”
Coffey will be honored by her family and friends at a celebration of life event to be held sometime in May.