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TOWBIN--Irene Kathleen June 10, 2011. A unique person, independent mother, artist, and friend. A citizen of Ireland and the USA, Irene was born in Brooklyn, attended catholic schools and became a graduate nurse from the Lenox Hill Hospital School of Nursing. She married and had three children; Minna, whose husband, Ned Pinger and children Belmont, Dash, and Zyla mourn her passing; Bram and his wife Erica, and Zachary and his wife Hannah and their children; Harry, Phoebe and Cayetana all share the tragedy of losing a mother and grandmother, as she approached her 75th year. She will also be mourned by her brother, Dan Lyons and his wife Judy and their children; Cathlin, and husband Eric, and their two children, Daniel and his wife Donna, and their two children, and Matthew Lyons. Finally, she will be missed by her former husband and friend Robert Towbin, who admired her unique understanding of good and bad and her willingness, to express her strong opinions. Irene was an accomplished artist who worked many years in her SoHo studio which she shared with her dear friend and fellow artist Kiki Kogelnik. Irene was more than a painter and maker of unique constructions, be it amusing statements of undeniable truths, or photos of things that would surely lose their glamour and moments of popular appeal. Her photos in the Dublin, Ireland, eatery, the Temple Bar, capture the SoHo of New York in the 1980's that no longer exists. Her growing interest in what governments are obligated to do for their citizens which started during the McCarthy era of the 1950s and translated, over the years, to a fierce defense of women's rights and disenfranchised people everywhere on this earth characterized her incisive strong and brave attitude to life. A growing distaste for the movement in her home country by right wing politicians infuriated her and as President George W. Bush became the favorite to win a second term, she decided to leave America and live in Ireland. She chose Galway as her home and created a unique spot in which to live. As she settled in, she began to travel and returned to Budapest, Hungary where Kiki had had a show years earlier, and bought an apartment there, on the river, and made her home both in Ireland and Budapest, entertaining her friends in both places in the ensuing years. Irene will be missed by friends in Ireland, Hungary and Staten Island where she bought two flats when the Staten Island Yankees came to town and sold one. The Yankees have not done as well. A memorial service will be held in New York City and details will be announced soon.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in New York Times on Jun. 11, 2011.
Memories & Condolences
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18 entries
February 8, 2021
Next July , 2021, Irene will be gone ten years. Not a day has passed when I haven’t wanted to talk to her. I am grateful for the memories that her friends have written here. Thank you. She was and will always be, amazing. I miss her.
Minna Pinger
August 11, 2019
I think of Irene almost daily, the music she discovered and loved, the incredible
abundance of art she had made and collected, the file drawers of photos she had taken, and the support and encouragement she bestowed upon other artists like only Irene could.

She took such joy in the work and endeavors of her friends and was so generous with her friendship. She made us all feel like our contribution to the world was singularly extraordinary. She lifted everyone up. God only knows how many people she has directly and indirectly impacted in her life.

She remains unforgettable. I remember coming back to her place in SoHo with my friend, Kenny, one evening. Irene was on the couch in awe as she insisted we both have a glass of wine, sit down, and listen to an amazing songstress she had just discovered. It was Eva Cassidy and I have been listening to her beautiful voice and music ever since. Irene continues to be in my thoughts more than ever and is always in my heart.

She remains one of the most uplifting people I have ever met, constantly excited about every new thing, swimming daily before I was even out of bed, doing a million things every day, and caring about so many things with incredible enthusiasm. I still have some of the buttons and stickers, and little quotations she handed out. I eventually ordered some and handed them out to people at film screenings across the country. Her spark lit many fires and those fires continue to spread. I treasure being reminded of her often and continue to aspire to being as disciplined, courageous, creative, and generous with my friendship as she was. She is a mentor to me and I miss her physical presence very much.
Barbara Trent
October 27, 2011
I can't even begin to know why I thought of Irene tonite and was compelled to track her down on the internet. I just came home from having dinner with a friend here in East Hampton and my thoughts went to Irene for no reason at all. And that is how I learned of her passing. My family and I visited Ireland about 3 or 4 years ago, making one of the stops in Galway to see Irene. Irene and I had become friends mostly through politics, did not see one another often, but always seemed to stay in touch. I have photographs of all of us as we shared one of the most memorable nights in Galway having dinner. We ate, drank and laughed for many hours. I remember it as if it were yesterday. We spent the following day together with. Irene showing us the sights and having a wonderful lunch together. Great company and lots of laughter. Irene's heart was warmer than the sun....our time with her truly being the highlight of the trip...I will think of her often as I always have...and miss the holiday postcards that only Irene would and light to all who miss her....barbara Layton (Babette's east hampton)
barbara layton
September 17, 2011
I loved Irene. I still do. How amazing, that despite all of the artists and filmmakers she helped, we never thought to turn the camera on her, well bits and pieces after 911, but nothing really in depth. She always welcomed me, often with a cameraman in tow, into her home when my work led me to NYC. There were a million things she wanted me to see and to do. Once she took my friend Kenny and me to a restaurant where from the bathroom you could see people only a few feet away from you eating, but they couldn’t see you. We all took turns going to the bathroom. So many things made her giggle.

I know waging peace sometimes exhausted her, but she persevered every single day.

Even in Ireland she encouraged me to come to Galway to speak at the university and visit her. She wanted Martin Sheen to make the introductions. She would say, “Go ahead, call him”. She was so full of faith. I did it. She had that affect on me. I usually did the things she was sure I should do. That may have been the only time that I was less than successful. I just wanted to be with her for a while and see this new place she loved so much and catch up with our lives.

I wonder, those of you who were in her home in Galway, was it extraordinary like her place in Soho? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if her house could remain as a bed and breakfast or a short-term rental for those visiting Galway or the university, kind of an art museum, a museum that would reflect a most amazing woman? I would love to sit in her space once again.

I recently listened to a voice mail from her that is on my computer. It is so Irene. I will keep it forever so I can listen to her whenever I want to be in touch.

She was in my dreams recently along with Fran Corey, who died in NYC only a week and a half before Irene. We were all having lunch together and very happy. It was a great dream.

I will see you all in NYC and perhaps in Galway and Budapest someday too. Irene and Fran were two very important women, mentors, role models, and contributors to my ever-changing life’s work. There is a memorial for each on Oct 1st. I will be in town for both. I feel very blessed to have known each of these amazing women and to have brought them together, if only briefly.

Irene and Fran, I hold you in my heart.
Barbara Trent
June 30, 2011
dear dear Irene Thank Goodness we saw you again a few years ago. It was such a wonderful visit. You slept in a small bunk by my feet and listened intently to every story I had to tell.We attended the LH NS reunion and went to dinners , lunches and found time to sqeeze in Princess Grace's Mementos and gowns at the Christie Auction. We strolled into 'papyrus' and bought notepaper.It was such a pleasure to know you and you will be missed greatly. Thea DiBuono
Thea DiBuono
June 26, 2011
Dear Bram and family -keeping you in our thoughts and prayers. We will light a candle in her honor at St. Mary's.

Connie Craig
Connie Craig
June 23, 2011
I have loved reading all these messages about Irene. I have a beautiful Navajo rug that she gave Gordon and me when she came to stay once in Italy. I don't need a rug to remember her, but it does remind me of her whenever I see it. It would be lovely to have a retrospective of her art.
Amanda Grender
June 21, 2011
A truly remarkable lady,an inspiration to all who knew Irene here at the Galway Hospice.Fondly remembered by all the Staff.
June 21, 2011
--- Oh heart, if one should say to you that the soul perishes like the body, answer that the flower withers, but the seed remains ---

I’ve known Irene since her first travel to Ukraine at the beginning of the 90s last century. We visited Crimea, the Carpathians (my birthplace), Kyiv … Irene was interested in everything she saw, especially in the people she met. I was very glad to interpret for her feeling her keen intelligence and understanding. Then I accompanied her in her travel to Russia (Moscow, Suzdal, Vladimir, the Golden Ring cruise, St. Petersburg) where in Moscow I also met Robert Towbin (with pleasure observing their gentle & memorable old-friends-attitude…).
It was in the summer of 2007 when we saw each other last – during the Peace Corps tour of the Carpathian area and the city of Lviv. Irene was eager to see and to know as much as possible: history, art, culture… She never seemed bored. On July 15, 2007, when we were tramping up the Lviv City High Castle Hill or walking downtown, her cellphone was continuously connecting her with the Wide World and transferring greetings on her 71st Birthday.
We have been e-corresponding all these years, almost to the very end…
Only see some of her heartfelt INSTRUCTIONS to me:
From: irene towbin []
Sent: Thursday, May 12, 2011 9:22 PM
To: Goudz, Lydia
Dear Lida- I hope all is well with all of you. It is so nice that Summer is on the way and the days are getting longer > ENJOY EVERY MINUTE!.......Love, Irene
PS>>>>>> Lida! As I said enjoy every minute > Time is going too fast!!!! Much love, Irene
........ I did not know how soon after that she was going to leave us.....
--- The secret of language is the secret of sympathy, and its full charm is possible only to the gentle ---
Lydia Goudz
June 17, 2011
I met Irene when I was in Graduate school in NYC and she lent me a place to stay in Soho while my apartment was being prepared. We talked during my time in NY and I recall our lunch at a cafe in Lincoln Square. She was extremely generous and allowed my family and friends a place to stay while they attended my graduation. I still have a postcard she sent me in 1999 with the numbers 1900-1999 written in the sand by the ocean. Time is temporal. God Bless you Irene. Your influence will stay with me as I work now being an artist.
Sheldon Chase
June 16, 2011
Irene epitomized the generosity, creativity, enthusiasm, kindness and hospitality of a remarkable family. I feel that my life has been indelibly enriched by knowing her and the entire Towbin family. Whether it was through a piece of her art or a few words shared as she dashed down the street in Soho, she always made one look at the world from a different perspective. Even though we'd both left New York, I've thought of Irene every year on our shared birthday and sent her my best. This year that thought will be a sad one but I will still send her my very best.
Cynthia McCallister
June 16, 2011
I knew Irene here in Galway. She had been with us here for about 10 years, I guess. She made a very deep impression on her neighbours, especially the sick and the housebound. She visited them very regularly and always carried some little 'offering'. Kitty Kelly, a lady of indeterminate age (on her own insistence!) misses her terribly. I was shocked to hear of her death. She never mentioned her illness to Kitty or her close friends here. She was a really fine christian woman. Her Galway neighbours are praying for her bereaved family at this time.
(Rev.) Dick Lyng, Pastor, St. Augustine's Church, Galway.
Dick Lyng
June 15, 2011
This is from the family of the late Violet Ashike, of Big Mt. AZ, Navajo Nation. Irene will truly be missed, we had known her for 20 plus years. She would come and visit, and help us on the land. She was a strong supporter, and good friend of our family. Irene will always be known as a generous, caring individual. She was an activist in human rights. Irene took the time to help us in our struggle here in Big Mt. to the children of Irene, she often talked of her wonderful children. you are all in our prayes. and may the great spirit be with all of you. Irene is truly missed by all of us at Big Mountain,Az. The Ashike family.
Rita Chase
June 14, 2011
About 20 years ago I gave Irene a tour of the Watts Towers in Los Angeles - Minna was with her - and, ever since that time, Irene has been an unflagging supporter of my efforts to complete a documentary feature about the Towers and their creator. She has also been an unflagging friend.

The last time I spoke with her was about the time I finished the movie and she told me she was about to move to Budapest.

Yesterday, quite by chance I glanced at the page in the Sunday NY Times noting her life's journey and realized how fortunate I am to have been touched by her.

With deepest sympathy... Edward Landler (Los Angeles, CA)
June 13, 2011
From Trish Cowley and Gary Gilson in Minneapolis . . .

Irene . . . an astounding woman and friend. She was alive, fearless, authentic and unique.

My heart is full of sadness and I extend my deepest sympathy to her family.

We had great times together! Irene had an endearing essence that I will treasure always.

I miss her. I remember her. I celebrate her!

Love, Trish

I have always seen Irene as a wide-eyed, knowing sprite whose freshness engulfed the world. Her smile was love.

She was gutsy. She refused, at a formal dinner in London, to accept the men's tradition of leaving their women behind as the men retired to a private session of cigars and brandy.

She confronted a boorish dinner guest, refusing to bear silent witness to his bigotry.

She became an urban pioneer in SoHo. She tackled various art forms with gusto. She befriended struggling artists. She was a constant presence at family events with a video camera that seemed part of her body.

Irene created marvelous New York experiences for me and my wife, Trish, when we came to town and stayed with her. Her enthusiasm is unforgettable.

Our deepest sympathy and love to her wonderful family.

Gary Gilson
Gary Gilson
June 13, 2011
Yes, I agree, Unique, maker of unique constructions and amusing statements of undeniable truths. Larry Boes (New York)
Larry W. Boes
June 12, 2011
Irene was a charter member of our Ground Zero Peace vigil which stood firm in opposition to the war in Iraq for many years. What a joy she was to stand next to, everyone loved Irene. I'll never forget the small gatherings she used to organize at her studio for people to watch social/political videos and then discuss them over munchies. She was such a warm, wonderful, generous inspiration to all around her. Even after she left for Ireland she still kept in touch and always came to the vigil when she was in town visiting. Peace be with her.
Russell Branca
June 11, 2011
Minna, Zach, Bram. My heart is broken. There WASN'T any thing in world Irene wouldn't do for you. I will miss, miss, miss her. With kind regards,Marjorie Chester
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