George Vernon Irons, Sr.

Educator, Civic Leader, Athlete

George Vernon Irons, Sr., was born on August 2, 1902, in Demopolis, Alabama, to Dr. Andrew George and Belle Vernon Allen Irons. His teenage years were spent in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he attended the Lovejoy Academy. He continued his education at the University of Alabama, achieving a master's degree in 1925. Irons began his teaching career as assistant principal at Perry County High School, and after two years, went to Darlington School for Boys in Rome, Georgia, as Master. He completed his doctorate at Duke University in 1933.

A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of The University of Alabama, Irons was also captain of the track and cross-country teams during his student days. He ran his first race ever his freshman year and soon distinguished himself. As a champion competitor, he was hailed a "self-made distance star" and the "South's premier distance runner." As his prowess grew, he was dubbed the "Knight of the Cinder Path," setting conference and national records. Considered the "outstanding distance runner of his time," Irons was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1978.

Dr. Irons joined the Howard College (now Samford University) faculty in 1933. His teaching career was interrupted by World War II and his assignment as an antiaircraft artillery commander. Returning to Howard as a lieutenant colonel, he served as advisor to campus veterans and was active in the reserves for 33 years.

During his tenure at Samford University, Dr. Irons was Professor of History and Political Science for 43 years, chaired the department 22 years, directed Samford's Freedoms Foundation program, and was named Samford's first Distinguished Professor. For his selfless contributions to university life, both in and out of the classroom, he was honored on numerous occasions by students, peers, and the administration. In the community, he was a founder of the Alabama Historical Association, active in the Alabama Writer's Conclave, and served as deacon and Sunday School teacher at Southside Baptist Church, Birmingham, Alabama. In 1962, his speech, "Freedom, America's Weapon of Might," was broadcast globally to U.S. Armed Forces and earned him the George Washington Honor Medal from the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge.

Dr. Irons was married to Velma Wright, and they were parents of two sons-George Vernon Irons, Jr. and William Lee Irons. After a long and illustrious career, Dr. Irons died July 21, 1998 at age 95. His legacy of devotion to learning, teaching, and service to his country and fellowman stands as a lasting tribute and inspiration.