Edward Irons: a dean emeritus at Clark Atlanta University, dies at 98

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As Brigitte Morrow Killings prepared for her 1996 wedding, her stepfather, Edward Irons, insisted that she make a budget for the big day.

This, though, was no ordinary budget.

Irons, a banking and finance expert, “literally had me put together a full-fledged budget. I mean, I quickly learned about (profit and loss) statements. Everything was a line item — the reception, food, flowers. I had to sit across from the kitchen table and present this budget to him, and he questioned me about everything.”

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It also meant making regular reports to him.

“Oh, it was serious,” said Morrow Killings, a divisional director for community banking and business development for JPMorgan Chase. Then Irons himself blew the budget by booking a whole restaurant instead of two rooms for the reception and taking every out-of-town guest to brunch.

Irons, a dean emeritus at Clark Atlanta University, an educator, businessman and author, died Jan. 17 of heart disease at age 98.

He didn’t brag about his accomplishments, but he could have. He was involved in the civil rights movement and was the second African American to earn a doctorate in business administration from Harvard University’s School of Business, according to Harvard. He co-founded a Black-owned bank in Texas in 1964, was superintendent of banking for Washington, D.C., was founding dean of Howard University’s school of business and was a former executive director of the National Bankers Association.

When he received his doctorate degree, his advisor and professor told him that “as you grow in stature, always grow in humility.”

He did, said his wife of 34 years, Joyce Irons. “Ed felt one should talk less about oneself or his accomplishments; that if someone wants to know more about you, they would do their own research.”

In a StoryCorps interview, Irons talked about being active in the civil rights movement in Tallahassee, Fla., while he was the assistant business manager at Florida A & M University.

FAMU students started a bus boycott similar to the one in Montgomery, refusing to sit in the back of the bus. The movement spread to faculty, staff and the larger community.

The president of FAMU called the staff into the office and warned them that they had to leave the movement. Irons refused.

He told him that he was “fighting for my babies and babies who look like them across the country, and I can’t get out of the movement.”

It was a bold step because he had just bought and furnished a new house. When it came times for raises, he and others who were protesting were left out. He knew it was time to go and eventually enrolled at Harvard.

Daughter Trisha Lynn Irons, of Fairfax, Va., a senior project manager at Lighthouse Global, called her dad a trailblazer.

“He was the first in many instances, and he was all about giving back,” she said. “That’s what stands out. He made a choice to give back. When he could have had opportunities to teach at other institutions of higher education, he consistently chose (historically black colleges and universities) because it was important to him. He did the same thing with his skills and knowledge — growing and building the Black banking industry.”

He was also a proud dad. She remembers meals around the kitchen table and being quizzed about the day’s news. He made sure that “we were aware of what was going on in the world, outside the household.”

Friend and fellow Ben Hill United Methodist Church member, Kermit Majett, said Irons “without exception, was always smiling and had a pleasant word and a positive attitude for everybody.”

Once, Majett stopped by to see the family. He spied a ton of awards, pictures and plaques, testaments to his friend’s accomplishments.

“I said this is one bad Negro,” he said laughing.

“You will never know much how God used him to touch so many lives in so many areas,” he said.

Joyce Irons said her husband would have turned 99 in August. She said his goal was to make it to 100.

And he almost did. The legacy he leaves behind is that one should always love God, love yourself and love your fellow man, she said.

Irons is survived by Joyce C. Irons; five children, Trisha Lynn Irons, Edward Daryl Irons, Jr. (Angie Irons), Tamara Joy Irons (Catherine Walker), Tony Rene Morrow and Brigitte Morrow Killings; 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Services will be held 11 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 25, at Clark Atlanta University’s Haven-Warren Hall, followed by a private service at Westview Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be sent to the Edward Irons Scholarship Fund, Clark Atlanta University School of Business Administration.

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