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Coronavirus claims Sister Mary Patricia Plumb, Academy of the Holy Names icon

The 1955 Holy Names alumnus was an indefatigable supporter of Jaguars athletics.
Sister Mary Patricia Plumb poses for a portrait in her Tampa home with a miniature statue of legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne in this 2018 photo.
Sister Mary Patricia Plumb poses for a portrait in her Tampa home with a miniature statue of legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne in this 2018 photo. [ "LUIS SANTANA | TIMES" | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jan. 9, 2021
Updated Jan. 9, 2021

That confounded walker, a nagging necessity the last six years of Sister Mary Patricia Plumb’s life, belied her astounding mobility.

For a west-central Florida fixture, one of Bayshore Boulevard’s most beloved nuns never seemed to stop moving.

“As infirm as she was in recent years ... she never said no to an adventure,” said her brother, Terry Plumb. “Whether a new restaurant to try or a bookstore to peruse or a domino game to play. Everyone else would be worn out, but Patsy never quit.”

A 1955 graduate of Academy of the Holy Names who spent nearly 40 years serving in various capacities at the South Tampa all-girls high school (and co-educational school from pre-K through eighth grade), Sister Mary Patricia died Friday evening at AdventHealth Tampa of complications from COVID-19.

Sister Mary Patricia was 83. She passed peacefully with a nurse by her side at the time of her death, her brother said. An indefatigable supporter of Holy Names athletics, she was profiled in this Tampa Bay Times story two years ago.

“The Academy and the Sisters of the Holy Names are thought of as one — Sister Mary Patricia’s life work is a testament to that,” Holy Names president Arthur Raimo said on the school’s Facebook page.

“Getting to know and work with her has been one of the great joys of my time as (the) academy’s president. She embodies the academy’s motto — Esse Quam Videri, or To Be Rather Than to Seem — better than anyone I know.”

The descendant of a Pinellas County pioneer family, Sister Mary Patricia — known as Patsy to many — was the 23rd person born at Clearwater’s Mease Hospital. Plumb Elementary in Clearwater is named after her great-grandmother, Jennie Reynolds Plumb, the city’s first paid public-school teacher.

But her roots run deep into the South Bend soil as well.

“On our mother’s side, she was a descendant of Alexis Coquillard, a French Canadian who founded South Bend, Ind., and was instrumental in the founding of the University of Notre Dame,” Terry Plumb wrote in an obituary he crafted for his older sister.

“Patsy inherited her well-known love of the Fighting Irish from our mother. Our grandfather reputedly was a drinking buddy of Knute Rockne, and our Aunt Mary Jo dated one of the legendary Four Horsemen of Notre Dame.”

Her smorgasbord of job titles at Holy Names included teacher, vice principal, campus minister and even coach — in a pinch. One year, she served as a Jaguars softball assistant because the team needed a driver. At another Catholic school, she coached boys track when no one else could be found for the job.

But her greatest coaching glory came in the debate realm. Sister Mary Patricia earned a spot in the National Speech & Debate Association’s Hall of Fame in 2006.

Amid those duties, she indulged her passion for traveling. Sister Mary Patricia visited numerous countries, even visiting Namibia with a niece only a few years back. An avid reader, she devoured cop novels, often with Jack Daniel’s and water over ice nearby.

“We could not go anywhere in Tampa without someone coming up to tell her hello and tell her how much she meant to them or to their daughters,” Terry Plumb said.

It was her wish that she be cremated and interred at the Sisters cemetery, her brother added. A public memorial will be held at a later date, perhaps in the fall.