Patty Kirwan loved the performing arts — and that included Monty Python.
Her son William recited the lyrics to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” from the comedy troupe’s “Life of Brian,” during a remembrance for her Thursday morning at the University of Maryland’s Memorial Chapel.
“If life seems jolly rotten, there’s something you’ve forgotten,” he recited, “and that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing.”
Kirwan, a former University of Maryland “First Lady,” died earlier this month after complications from multiple myeloma. She was 80.
More than 300 people gathered to remember Kirwan, who was married to former university President William “Brit” Kirwan. A longtime education advocate and animal lover, Kirwan was remembered by friends and family for the resiliency she showed throughout her life despite battling health problems for 30 years.
“Patty gave so much of herself to the community, all while dealing with chronic pain and health issues,” her son-in-law Brendan Horton said. “To those close to her, Patty was a role model of perseverance.”
Through Biblical verses, poetry and anecdotes, attendees honored Kirwan’s work ethic and impact.
Alma Gildenhorn, a graduate of this university and a trustee of its Foundation Board, called Kirwan a woman of “keen intellect and great purpose.”
“The warmth of her brown eyes could light up a room,” she said. “No one will know the adversity she faced with unbelievable courage and no complaint.”
During her husband’s tenure as president of this university and Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, Kirwan encouraged him in his vision to make this university a top research institution. She even advised him to create The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, Gildenhorn added.
Kirwan organized events for faculty, alumni and friends to foster a communal atmosphere, was a respected expert in the field of early childhood education and had a “legendary” passion for animal welfare, Gildenhorn said.
She advocated for early childhood and elementary education for most of her life, serving as a volunteer and teaching aide in Montgomery County. The Hart for Animals, a rescue facility in Garrett County that Kirwan donated heavily to, has a center named in her honor.
A “dog-lover,” Kirwan rescued animals and often encouraged her grandchildren to do the same, they said.
Celia Shapiro, who was too “heartbroken” to attend the service, had her daughter Ruth Futrovsky read a letter on her behalf.
“To me, she is a victorious hero,” Futrovsky read, “demonstrating to all who knew her the meaning of strength and grace and love.”