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Isabelle Mazman, IRS agent loved family, traveling

By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / September 23, 2011

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So few women were federal revenue agents in the late 1950s that taxpayers who visited the Internal Revenue Service’s regional offices on Tremont Street were surprised to find their questions directed to Isabelle Mazman.

She was “a slip of a girl with dark, silky hair that frames an oval face with a Mona Lisa expression,’’ Grace Davidson wrote in a profile that ran in the Boston Post. “Her manner is as gentle as her voice is soft, and her huge eyes are limpid with sincerity.’’

“It’s curious,’’ Ms. Mazman told Davidson. “The public expects a woman revenue agent to look like a battleaxe.’’

Though she may not have looked the part, she cut her own path at a time when women were largely excluded from jobs like hers, which had no shortage of intense unpleasant encounters.

Ms. Mazman, who also set a standard as a devoted aunt in her large extended family, died of breast cancer Aug. 31 in Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers. She was 83 and lived in Swampscott.

At home in the world, Ms. Mazman introduced her mother, sister, and brothers to nearby attractions and faraway locations, then played the same role for her dozen nieces and nephews.

“It’s a lot of pressure, having an aunt like that,’’ her nephew, Rich Byron of Andover, said with a laugh. “She teaches you how to do it up right.’’

For Ms. Mazman, that meant loving Lynn, where she grew up and lived most of her life, and it also meant leaving Lynn whenever travel beckoned.

“She didn’t sit still; she was always on the go,’’ said her brother Albert of Salem.

“After all the traveling she did with her brothers and sisters, she started going with the nieces and nephews,’’ her nephew said. “She took my cousin to Rio; she took three nieces to the Riviera. I wanted to go see the pyramids, but there was too much drama in the Middle East. She said: ‘We can’t go there. Let’s go to Machu Picchu instead.’ ’’

The international jaunts “were just the big trips,’’ Byron said. “I can’t even count the number of times when we just jumped on the ferry and went to Nova Scotia or jumped on a train and went to Montreal, literally more times than I can remember.’’

That kind of traveling seemed impossibly distant during much of Ms. Mazman’s childhood in Lynn, where she was the third of seven children and the older daughter in an Armenian-American family.

Her father died when she was a child, and the family had few financial resources afterward. Ms. Mazman, who also learned to speak the Armenian, Greek, and Turkish languages as a child, assumed more responsibilities early on and adjusted her aspirations to ensure that her siblings prospered, too.

“I wanted to go to college,’’ she told the Boston Post. “It was impossible because my mother had to put my two older brothers through college.’’

Ms. Mazman graduated from Lynn Classical High School in 1945 and attended Boston University at night, graduating in 1954 with a bachelor’s degree.

During her days she worked as a clerk with the IRS and was promoted to revenue agent in 1955.

“My only plan for the future is to do my work well and advance in my career,’’ she told the Post.

At one point, she spent a few years working in New York City before returning to Boston and said she enjoyed the sojourn because it meant living close to culture.

Along with introducing relatives to the pleasures of travel, Ms. Mazman opened their eyes and ears to museums, the opera, and the symphony. Her television was rarely tuned to anything but PBS.

“Whenever I see The New Yorker, I’ll always think of her; she always read it,’’ her nephew said. “She was her own woman in a time when it was hard to be that, and the way that manifested itself was in all the things she did and the things she introduced us to.’’

While guiding relatives around the world, Ms. Mazman also helped them with the day-to-day aspects of their lives, from dinnertime to tax time.

“She always helped me with my taxes,’’ said her brother Harry of Saugus.

“She was just very smart and a good cook,’’ said her brother Arthur, with whom Ms. Mazman lived in Swampscott. “She could knit; she could sew.’’

Like her mother, Ms. Mazman was accomplished at cooking dishes from Armenian traditions. Family members brought her to shop for hard-to-get items in Watertown, which has a large Armenian community.

“She drove for a very short period and discovered she wasn’t a great driver, so she took the bus and the T everywhere,’’ said her niece, MaryEllen Kain of South Hamilton. “She walked every day in Lynn to the bus station and went into the IRS in Boston by bus. I thought that was an amazing thing about her, that she got all around the world without driving.’’

After Ms. Mazman’s mother died in the mid-1980s, she and her brother Arthur bought a Swampscott house that was a short walk from the ocean. In her late 50s, she took early retirement from the IRS, giving her more time for travel, reading, and needlepoint.

“We’re amazed at the work she completed, even into the last couple of weeks of her life,’’ Albert said. “We’re amazed at the needlework.’’

A memorial service will be held at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 9, 40 days after her death, in St. Stephen’s Armenian Apostolic Church in Watertown.

“She told all her nieces and nephews, ‘I had a wonderful life; don’t be sad,’ ’’ Kain said. “Even as she left us, she was helping us. She said, ‘Have a 40-day ceremony and then go to Legal Sea Foods.’ She asked me to bring her a menu so she could help plan the luncheon.’’

Bryan Marquard can be reached at