A professor once told Irma Wyman that women had no place in engineering and that no matter what she did, she would fail his class.
She dropped the course, but not the profession, a friend recalled. After being one of two women to graduate from the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering in 1949, Wyman forged a remarkable career in the computer industry and was eventually named Honeywell’s first female chief information officer.
Wyman was also an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, and funded the Irma M. Wyman Scholarship for women in engineering and computer science at the University of Michigan, as well as the Irma Wyman Internships for Students of the College of Saint Benedict.
“She was just such a force,” said Gloria Thomas, executive director of the University of Michigan’s Center for the Education of Women.
Wyman, of St. Paul, died at United Hospital on Nov. 17 after suffering a stroke. She was 87.
Born in Detroit, Irma Wyman was the outspoken only child of a traditional German family. Her father worked in a bakery. Wyman enrolled in the University of Michigan on a Regents Scholarship.
Her research led her to the work underway on “programmable computers.” What was then the National Bureau of Standards hired her to work on various prototypes, according to an article about Wyman in a University of Michigan publication.
Wyman landed a job with a Boston start-up that was acquired by Honeywell, launching her career with the company.
“From 1953 to 1980 Wyman was involved in nearly every aspect of Honeywell’s computer business, headquartered in Boston, including design, manufacturing, maintenance, patents and sales,” a 2008 Episcopal News Service article said. “She once personally demonstrated the Datamatic 1000 to officials of the United States Treasury. They bought it.”
In 1980 she moved to Honeywell’s corporate offices in Minneapolis, the article said, and was eventually named CIO.
Wyman worked at Honeywell until retiring in 1990.
She then immediately started her second act, and was ordained as a deacon in the Episcopal Church in Minnesota. She served as archdeacon for 10 years until 2008, earning her the church title “Venerable.”
She had a “no nonsense, straightforward way of communication,” said Bishop Brian Prior, head of the Episcopal Church in Minnesota, “but underneath it all there was just this deep level of compassion.”
“She really had that clear passion about bringing the needs of the world to the church,” Prior said.
Wyman continued to lead after moving to Cornelia House in the Episcopal Homes complex in St. Paul 10 years ago. She was a very active resident, and was always thinking about ways to help people with less, said former manager Julie Niewald, recalling Wyman’s fundraising for causes such as Toys for Tots.
In 2007 the University of Michigan gave Wyman an honorary doctorate of engineering.
Close friend and former Honeywell colleague Sharon O’Toole said she will miss the yearly jigsaw puzzle trips she and Wyman took to the North Shore. For all her outspokenness, Wyman was an introvert, said O’Toole, and needed time to herself.
She recalls her friend as a voracious reader who loved raspberries and made origami cranes that she gave as gifts.
Thomas, at the Center for the Education of Women, said Wyman returned to Michigan each year for the scholarship ceremony and remained in touch with the more than two dozen Irma Wyman scholars.
“All of the women she supported are like her children,” Thomas said. “They are the children she did not have.”
Wyman is survived by many cousins and friends.
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis. Visitation begins at 9 a.m.