Halina Irving

DATELINE: Woodland Hills, CA

Irving, Halina, 83, died Monday, January 25, 2021 at home, surrounded by her loving family. She was the beloved wife of John Irving for 62 years. Born in Krakow, Poland, a daughter of the late Herman and Sarah (Barach) Semmel, Halina was a child holocaust survivor and lived in hiding during World War II in Hungary, and subsequently in Prague and Brussels, before coming to America in 1951. A documentary about her experiences during the war – “Hiding Halina” – was produced in 2008. After receiving a Master’s Degree in French literature at UCLA and teaching French there for several years, she discontinued her studies to raise a family. She later resumed her education and enjoyed a long and successful career as a psychotherapist. A breast cancer survivor herself, she worked extensively with Vital Options, a support group for young cancer survivors, served as the resident therapist for “The Group Room,” a weekly radio program for cancer survivors, and led numerous therapy groups for people dealing with grief and loss. She had lived in Cumberland since 2018, previously residing in Woodland Hills, CA for nearly 60 years.

Devoted mother of Eric Irving and his wife, Alexandra, of Cumberland, RI and Will Irving and his wife, Josie Faass, of Hopewell Township, NJ. Dear sister of the late Stephanie Semmel. Loving grandmother of Jackson, Matthew, Julia, and Spencer.

In lieu of flowers, contributions in her memory may be made to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105

A Memorial Service will be held on Sunday, February 21, 2021 at 12 noon via Zoom. For an invitation please email eirving101@gmail.com or will.irving@gmail.com.


  1. Michelle Grajeda
    Jan 28, 2021

    I had the pleasure to work for and with Halina at a vocational rehabilitation company. She was always gracious and kind.
    God bless you for your wonderful spirit. Rest In Peace

  2. Janet Papkin
    Jan 28, 2021

    My heart aches for each of you. I think of how she would sparkle every time she talked about her family & show me pictures of her grandchildren. I feel such a deep sadness.

  3. Les Brockmann
    Jan 28, 2021

    To the family of Halina,

    So sorry for your loss. I knew her through her practice here in Encino California, up to the time of her retirement. I’ve been wondering about her for several years since.

    I first met her many years ago when I had cancer, and needed someone to confide in. Over the years (after recovery) I spoke with her about other life issues as well. She was always absolutely lovely, one of the kindest and most positive persons I ever met, and was a big influence and help to me.

    I wish to honor her wonderful life, and send my heartfelt condolences.

    Sincerely, Les Brockmann

  4. Wendy Wallack
    Jan 29, 2021

    I met Halina 15 years ago through her practice. She was the smartest and most loving woman I have known. I will never forget what I have learned from her. She mostly loved her grandchildren they gave her such joy.
    She loved John deeply.
    I am a better person, wife, mother daughter and friend because of her. My heart aches knowing she is gone… But never ever forgotten.
    May her memory be a blessing to all her family and all those she has touched.

  5. Mike Seid
    Jan 29, 2021

    I had the privilege of getting to wok with Halina toward the end of her career until her move to the east coast. Her sensitivity and humanity and erudition and compassion made a dramatic impact on my soul and on my understanding of what life can be. I can offer no higher praise for — nor gratitude to — another human being.

    She will continue to live on in my memories and in my conversations with others, for I often cited her observations and insights to those close to me who were likewise in need of guidance.

    To the family and to all those close to her, may you be consoled among the mourners of Zion and of Jerusalem.

    Mike Seid

  6. Linda meyers
    Jan 29, 2021

    I wad a patient of Helena and she was the most living and warm and caring woman. I adored her and she made me feel
    So good about myself during a troubling situation. I will miss her. Xo

  7. Janice Lang
    Jan 29, 2021

    I am so grateful for the time I spent with Halina. She enriched my life with her insights, wisdom and warmth. Although our relationship was professional, it was also personal, and I am better for knowing her.

    We often shared family photos of children and grandchildren, and I saw what joy her family brought her. I’m so glad you all got to be together for the past several years.

    She was very special, and I feel the loss. My heartfelt condolences to all of you.

  8. Janet Papkin
    Jan 29, 2021

    Halina was a brilliant and gifted therapist. The breadth of her own experiences brought such wisdom and compassion to her patients. Her own survival of so many challenges gave encouragement to anyone’s seeking the tools of surviving their own obstacles. And she had an impeccable fashion sense! It made one’s being in her presence feel flattered by her care of her appearance, knowing it was just an invitation into her wisdom.
    I am so fortunate to have had her in my life. I will miss her.

    Jan 29, 2021

    It is a monumental loss for all who knew and loved Halina. My memories are only those of joy and warmth as I think about the years we spent together as friends and families. She was a gift to all of us who knew her.

  10. Eleanor Mizrahi
    Jan 30, 2021

    Dear John, Eric, and Will,

    I was so saddened to hear of Halina’s passing. May her memory be a blessing to you all and may you find comfort in one another as you grieve the loss of a beautiful soul.

    Eleanor (Marder) Mizrahi

  11. Rena Kaufman
    Jan 30, 2021

    Halina was one of the most special people I have ever had the privilege and good fortune to know. She was elegant and gracious, warm, wise and compassionate. We met in a therapy setting and over the years a loving friendship developed. Though she faced so many challenges in her life her kindness and gentleness always shone through. Her greatest joy was her family. How her face would light up when she showed me pictures of her precious grandchildren.
    To her family, my heart aches for the loss of your wife, mother, and grandmother… and for the loss of my dear friend.
    Halina was a great lady and my memories of her will remain in my heart always. I loved her and will miss her so.

  12. Lynn Benson
    Jan 30, 2021

    I knew Halina as a therapist and through the incredible work she did with my Aunt Selma. I will be forever grateful for the wisdom and guidance she provided to support my growth process into becoming the adult I am today. While mourning Halina’s passing on, I feel so fortunate my husband met her many years ago shortly after we were engaged. As we raise our two daughters (now teenagers), I often reflect on my journey over the years, which includes reflecting on how much Halina enriched my life. From our family to Halina’s family, we are sending our love, and please know, we will cherish our memories of Halina. She will always be in our hearts.

  13. Laurie Barre
    Jan 30, 2021

    I had the good fortune to be a patient of Halina’s. Her warmth, wisdom and compassion were boundless. I felt that she genuinely loved me, and I loved her. My condolences to her family, of whom she spoke often, with deep love. I am glad she got to spend the final years of her life with her beloved children and grandchildren. Her beautiful heart lives on in the hearts of all those she touched.

  14. Jacqueline Donado
    Jan 31, 2021

    Halina forever remembered, forever missed.

  15. Sandie Moshi
    Feb 1, 2021

    My heart aches knowing she is not my phone call away. I loved her dearly and she changed my life and way of handling difficult situations. I was her patient for many years and I told everyone I know That their lives would be so enriched with her guidance. She had a gift of clarity, a heart of gold and a brilliant mind. She always spoke of how much she loved and appreciated her husband John and how proud she was of Eric and John. She loved all of them which motivated her to move to Cumberland so she would be part of their lives and the grandkids she was so happy to have. She was so remarkable and there is a hole in my heart that will always miss her, but she lives on within me every day of my life.

  16. albert r baca
    Feb 4, 2021

    I met Halina and John in a graduate French class at UCLA. A lasting friendship was established by us Francophiles that has endured for decades. Halina was a paragon of taste that showed in her collection of furniture, paintings, etc. She was always beautiful. One day my father came to the student apartment that was an informal home for Halina, John, myself, and a few other young culture-vultures. While there, Dad asked me what the name of “that beautiful girl” was. I said, “Halina, Dad, but she’s taken; she’s John’s girl-friend!” As married couples, John with Halina, I with Joan, we started our families. We needed to adopt but I was unsure about adopting; Halina said to me, “Al, do it. You will love the child, and the child will love you. The love of an adopted child is the same as that of any other child.” Halina’s words are absolutely true. This episode will illustrate what a wonderful, loving, and incisive person our dear Halina was. I will cherish the memory of her forever.

    • John Irving
      Feb 5, 2021

      Dear Al,
      Thank you so much for the beautiful tribute to Halina. I did not remember your father’s visit, but I’m very glad you were gentleman enough to say Halina was taken! I’ll be in touch. John

  17. Dr. Joy Schary and Stephen Kabak
    Feb 7, 2021

    Missing Halina has come in two stages – beginning with her wise move with John to the East coast to be with their children and grandchildren. My husband, Stephen Kabak, and I enthusiastically encouraged the move as it seemed in sync with a new time in their lives. And at the same time we began the task of missing both of them. We are so grateful they built the new home they came to so enjoy, and that they had the blessing of being in the lap of their wonderfully attentive and loving sons and dear extended family. And now is the task of the other missing – it is hard for me to believe that this erudite, talented, fiercely determined woman – who was my dear friend for about forty years, is gone. My memories begin with our very first conversation at the age of a mutual friend’s swimming pool, and deepened steadily through all those years. Finding Halina was a constant gift. Missing her is the challenge at hand, remembering her is the blessing. Our hearts are with John, our dear friend.

  18. Wendy Lee
    Feb 17, 2021

    The news of Halina’s passing leaves me feeling incredibly sad. It’s such a loss. She was a remarkable woman and unique person. Her intuitiveness, sensitivity of others, and kind heart were only a few of the many wonderful characteristics that made her so very special. I know I’m not alone with the feeling that she will be dearly missed and always remembered. I send my sincere and heartfelt condolences to Halina’s family and all those who were close to her.

  19. Susan Darby
    Oct 4, 2023

    i just watched the movie “hiding halina,” i’ve rarely been so moved. she was the angel that gave life everywhere she went.

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