Computer programmer Mary Coombs, 1929-2022 – Obituaries | Obituaries | News


She joined Lyon’s management trainee program in 1952 and was based at the statistical office. LEO was created by the British catering company, a pioneer in technology, to create an efficient back-office for its orders to tea rooms, hotels and restaurants. Mary Blood, as she was known then, was intelligent and gifted in mathematics.

When a memo advertising a “basic computer course” circulated around the office, she applied – the only woman among the 10 applicants.

Mary’s first job was creating test programs for LEO, which was unreliable and took up 5,000 square feet at Lyons’ headquarters in Hammersmith, west London.

She then worked on automated payslips for 10,000 payroll employees. It was slow and laborious work. “A modern computer has a huge reserve of countless gigabytes. LEO 1 was 2k,” she explained.

Coombs replicated his duties for the Ford Motor Company. She also worked on early payroll programs for the British Army, Met Office and Inland Revenue.

Mary Clare Coombs was born in Muswell Hill, North London, the daughter of Doctor William – a Lyon society doctor – and his wife Ruth (née Petri).

She attended Putney High School and St Paul’s Girls’ School and studied French with History at Queen Mary University in London.

She married fellow LEO programmer John Coombs in 1955. They had a daughter, Anne, who died aged six, and later adopted three children, Andrew, Paul and Gillian.

Coombs left LEO in 1969 and became an elementary school teacher. She is survived by her three children.

Mary Coombs born February 4, 1929 died February 28, 2022


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