The only woman inducted into the TABB Hall of Fame, Mary Coffey was a trailblazer out of necessity. The rest is her-story.

With a father and brothers in the sheet metal industry, Mary Coffey was ready for a career in the sheet metal industry after graduating from high school. Yet the industry was not ready for her. In the 1960s, women were mostly shut out of the sheet metal unions, so Coffey went to college instead, majoring in health and physical education, married and started a family.      

By the time unions opened its doors for women, Coffey was 31 and considered too old for an apprenticeship. Undeterred, she found another way to follow her family’s career field. After a contractor she was working for decided to unionize, he tested all of his employees for apprenticeships. Coffey surpassed the requirements and earned her status as a journeyperson.

A longtime member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Coffey made history as the first woman to earn numerous certifications from the International Certification Board (ICB) and the Testing, Adjusting and Balancing Bureau (TABB).

She pursued a career in the testing, adjusting and balancing field after direction from her father. “I’m so glad I did,” she said about the career path. “It fit with me.”

In 2010, Coffey became the first woman inducted into the TABB Hall of Fame. “I would prefer that being the first woman at anything wasn’t a big deal. Being a woman should be secondary,” she said about the honor. “Being a female doing something shouldn’t be special.”

In yet, being a woman in the sheet metal industry is special because of women like Coffey who dared to persist in following their dreams. In her distinguished career, Coffey served as a certification exam proctor and subject matter expert for the ICB/TABB and owned her own business. She also worked as supervisor and instructor for Local 19 up until she passed away last year March 23 after a lengthy battle with cancer. She was 67.

“Mary was a remarkable woman and she opened doors and set precedents for other women coming up behind her in the industry,” says Dave Bernett, NEMIC administrator. “Her passing leaves a huge void at Local 19 and beyond.” Gone but not forgotten, Coffey is survived by three children — Eugene Healey, Christopher Healey, Mary Scott — four grandchildren and a lifetime spent blazing trails for other women.

“My mother was amazing and humble and my best friend. She taught us so much,” remembers Mary Scott of her mother’s legacy, adding that she often donated to Women for Women International, which helps marginalized women in war-torn countries learn life, business and vocational skills.

“She had a real passion for empowering women.”

This story originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of SNIPS magazine.