MADISON—Mary Katherine Bockman Byrne aged 96, of the ‘greatest generation,’ died Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, in Rio, Wis. Born Dec. 20, 1921, in Chicago, Ill., she was the daughter of Katherine Kapsch and Alvar Bockman. Mary grew up in the Hyde Park neighborhood, surrounded by museums, parks and lake front. She later enjoyed introducing her children to those and many other Chicago attractions. She attended St. Thomas the Apostle Grade School and High School, graduating in 1940. Influenced by teachers from neighboring University of Chicago, Mary was active in religious, history and glee clubs, and excelled in athletics. Her race-skating diligence on the frozen Midway led to training by a former Olympian. Her chance to try out for the Olympics was denied when the games were cancelled during World War II. Shortly after high school, Mary began to work at Union Station for Hugh Siddall, chairman of the Interterritorial Military Committee of Railroads, appointed by FDR to coordinate troop movement. This gave Mary the opportunity to travel throughout the United States and make many life-long friends. With the war over, she and Andy Byrne married in 1947 and raised nine children. In 1962, the family moved to Elm Grove, Wis. after residing in the Chicago suburbs of Elmhurst and Mount Prospect. Then, with the youngest four children, they moved to Glendale, Ohio in 1974. Two years later, the family spent a memorable year in England.
Mary and Andy divorced in 1979, and Mary re-settled in Madison after completing library science studies at University of Cincinnati. She was later employed at the Kohler Art Library at UW Madison. She moved to Pennsylvania to work at the Kirkridge Retreat Center before relocating to Oconomowoc, where she was employed by Waukesha County Social Services. Once retired, she lived in a senior community in Hazel Green, Wis. run by the Sinsinawa Dominicans. (Coincidentally, Mary was schooled by these nuns growing up.) Ever active, she contributed her skills to their library and bookstore. She returned to Madison to be closer to sons, Tim, Pat and Mike, where she lived out her remaining years.
Mary was a doer, a leader by nature. With courage to match her convictions, she was dedicated to the social gospel, and a fighter for peace. She was as busy contributing to civil rights and peace causes as she was shepherding her nine children. She continued that involvement and support to the end of her life. Her work for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin resulted in an alternate delegate seat at the historic 1968 Convention in Chicago. Some of the church, political, social and school organizations benefitting from her contributions included AFS, Catholic Family Movement, International Catholic Auxiliaries, League of Women Voters, and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She was an advocate of non-violence and was active protesting the Vietnam War.
Mary had a strong, creative spirit and a sense of adventure. Her interests were wide and varied. She loved taking her kids for walks in the woods or piling them into the car to explore Wisconsin’s many parks. Milwaukee’s Lakefront Festival of Arts and Madison’s Art Fair on the Square were favorite destinations. Her home was filled with the artwork of local painters and sculptors. Mary was a student of art history, blessed with a natural gift for decorating and talented with sketch pad and pencil.
Mary is survived by children, Dan, Bill, Bet, Andy Jr., Tom, Mike (Roberta) and John (Micaela); grandchildren, Lara, Mitchell, Bockman, Drew and Liam; and many nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by children, Tim and Pat; son-in-law, Frank Ray; daughter-in-law, Jane (Novy) Byrne; her parents; and her siblings, Elsie (Ed) Swanson, Charles (Jane) Bockman, and Robert (Gilda) Bockman.
Mary lived independently through 2016. Her family would like to thank Fathers Hippee and Radowicz, and the parishioners of St. Bernard’s Madison. We would also like to commend the excellent care received from her long-time physician Joanna Ruchala and staff; the caregivers at Segoe Gardens, Brookdale Stonefield and At-Home-Again; and the staff at Heartland Hospice, and Generations Homecare and Hospice. Mary’s family will notify loved ones of the plans and date for her Celebration of Life. Online condolences may be made at www.gundersonfh.com.