Eileen van Breemen

Eileen van Breemen (February 13, 2015)

Eileen H. "Pat" van Breemen, an advocate for children suffering from learning disabilities and a Wicomico County political activist, died Tuesday, from multiple organ failures, at her Salisbury home.

She had recently celebrated her 88th birthday.

The former Eileen Barbara Hines was born and raised in Iowa City, Iowa, where she graduated in 1942 from Iowa City High School.

Her father was a college professor, and her mother was a Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad telegrapher and a silent movie pianist.

Mrs. van Breemen, who was known as Pat, earned a bachelor's degree in zoology in 1945 from the University of Iowa, and a master's degree in the discipline in 1947 from Mount Holyoke College.

While pursuing her Ph.D. in anatomy at the University of Iowa, she met and fell in love with Dr. Verne L. van Breemen, whom she married in 1948.

The couple lived in New York, Los Angeles and Colorado, where her husband held academic appointments until 1966, when they moved to Salisbury when he joined the faculty of Salisbury State College.

He died in 1990.

After moving to Wicomico County, Mrs. van Breemen immersed herself in community affairs. She served as president of the League of Women Voters and was president of the Democratic Club of Wicomico County.

She also served on the Wicomico County Library Board of Trustees, and served two terms on the Board of License Commissioners of Wicomico County.

But it was children with learning disabilities that caught both Mrs. van Breemen's attention and her heart.

She served as president of the Mental Health Association of the Lower Eastern Shore and had been president of the Lower Shore Association for Children with Learning Disabilities.

After her children were grown, she took a position as the founding public relations director and volunteer coordinator at Holly Center, in Salisbury, a residential and training center, where she worked for many years.

The center, which is part of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, serves residents of Worcester, Wicomico, Somerset, Dorchester, Queen Anne, Kent, Talbot, Cecil and Caroline counties, and assists those who are developmentally disabled.

Constance P. Speidel, the mother of two severely disabled sons, met Mrs. van Breemen through their joint work with the Lower Shore Association for Children with Learning Disabilities, and in advocating for the passage of the Education of Handicapped Children Act, a federal law that was passed in 1975.

"I got to know Pat in the late 1970s, and she was just a wonderful and caring person, and such an advocate for these kids," said Mrs. Speidel.

"She would go to the schools and talk to principals and teachers. She was wonderful in helping us negotiate the educational system in Maryland," said Mrs. Speidel, a Salisbury resident. "She was always very generous with her knowledge and support."

Del. Norman H. Conway, an Eastern Shore Democrat, said he knew Mrs. van Breemen through his own work as a teacher and vice principal at Pinehurst Elementary School in Salisbury, and later in politics.

"She was a very active parent and wanted to help our school anyway she could," said Mr. Conway. "Children with disabilities always caught her eye and she wanted to help them, and when our school received special education students, she was right there helping."