Cover photo for Kathleen Smith Irwin's Obituary
Kathleen Smith Irwin Profile Photo
1942 Kathy 2023

Kathleen Smith Irwin

November 26, 1942 — August 19, 2023


Kathleen Smith Irwin passed away in Reykjavik, Iceland on August 19, 2023.  She is survived by her husband of 59 years, David R Irwin, Her son Patrick Irwin, his wife Stacey Schaefer, and their son Malcolm Irwin.


Kathy was born on November 26, 1942, to Dallas and Lucille Smith in Ottumwa, IA both of whom predeceased her.  She graduated from Drake University in 1965.  This is where she met David and were married on May 29, 1964.  They moved to Madison in 1965 and 4 years later had their son Patrick.

Kathy began her career as a clinical chemist at the VA hospital. In 1977, after having earned her MS in post-secondary education from UW-Madison, she decided she wanted a career change and enrolled in the UW Law School where she graduated with honors in 1980.


After working for the State of Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau she landed her “dream job” as an attorney for the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  She worked there for 28 years and amongst her many important contributions the one she was most proud of was being asked to serve as the legal counsel for the UW, University of Indiana, Yale University and National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) telescope consortium, better known as WIYN located on Kitt Peak, AZ.


In 2009 both she and David, despite still loving their jobs (David a teacher at Madison West High School for 43 years), decided to retire and spend their golden years traveling the world – and travel they did.  They visited all 7 continents including 4 trips to Antarctica and 5 trips to Africa.  Kathy often commented that she had never imagined being able to do all this travelling and enjoyed every second of each adventure.  She passed away while on a Scandinavian cruise, doing what she loved doing.


Kathleen lived life to the fullest and said she wouldn’t have lived her life in any other way.  Among her favorite things were:

Car – BMW

TV Show – The West Wing

Food(s) – Lobster and Morel mushrooms

Bridge suit – No Trump (same as her political feelings)

Flower – Hibiscus

Animal(s) Dogs and Lions

Least favorite animal encounter while traveling – Black Mamba in Africa.

She will be, and already is, missed by her family and friends.


A gathering to celebrate Kathy’s life will be held on Monday, September 18, 2023 from 5-7 p.m. at the Cress Center, 6021 University Avenue, Madison. Light fare and refreshments will be served. In lieu of flowers consider a donation to the UW Foundation.


“To live in the hearts of those we leave behind is not to die.” Thomas Campbell


Please share your memories of Kathy here on her Tribute Wall.


Cress Center

6021 University Ave. Madison

(608) 238-8406


To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Kathleen Smith Irwin, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Memorial Gathering

Monday, September 18, 2023

5:00 - 7:00 pm (Central time)

Cress Funeral & Cremation Service - Madison - Far West

6021 University Ave, Madison, WI 53705

Light fare and refreshments will be served.

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