Mary Y. Holcombe, former police dispatcher

Mary Y.Holcombe
Mary Y.Holcombe
Posted: March 04, 2014

Mary Y. Holcombe, 72, a former Philadelphia radio dispatcher and the widow of Fire Capt. David Holcombe, who died in the One Meridian Plaza fire in 1991, died Saturday, Feb. 8, of lung cancer at her home in San Rafael, Calif.

In 1998, Mrs. Holcombe retired from the Philadelphia Police Department, where she had worked in the radio room for many years. Before that, she worked briefly as a pharmacy technician at a drugstore in the city.

David Holcombe, commander of Engine Company 11 at Sixth and South Streets, was one of three firefighters killed Feb. 23, 1991, during the 12-alarm blaze at One Meridian Plaza.

A 28-year Fire Department veteran, Holcombe, 51, and firefighters James Chappell and Phyllis McAllister suffocated on the 28th floor of the Center City high-rise when their air tanks ran out before rescuers could reach them.

The blaze started in linseed oil-soaked rags that a contractor had left on the 22d floor of the 38-story building. The tragedy spurred changes to the city's sprinkler code.

In September 1991, Mrs. Holcombe filed a civil lawsuit in Common Pleas Court in Philadelphia, alleging that her husband's death was due to negligence.

The lawsuit targeted the building's owners and the companies responsible for its sprinkler system. It alleged that the skyscraper's emergency systems had failed to work during the 19-hour blaze.

The lawsuit was settled out of court.

Born in South Philadelphia, Mrs. Holcombe graduated from a vocational high school in 1959.

She loved to sing and was active in the choir at Our Lady of Victory Parish in Philadelphia. In 2003, after she moved to San Rafael to be near her family, she sang in the Dominican University Winifred Baker Chorale.

She played the piano for her grandchildren's preschool in California and enjoyed gardening.

"She really showed her green thumb in her California garden," said her daughter, Beverly Yates. Mrs. Holcombe also enjoyed reading and working puzzles.

Surviving, in addition to her daughter, are two grandchildren; several nieces; and a nephew. Her first husband, James Grant Yates, from whom she was divorced, died earlier.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, March 3, at Mount Tamalpais Mortuary and Cemetery, 2500 Fifth Ave., San Rafael, Calif.


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