NEW LONDON – For Becky Irving, the generations of students she taught over 28 years at Colby Junior College were not just her students, they were her “children.”
As they graduated from the school’s medical technology program and went on to hospitals and health care institutions around the world, she felt proud.
And when they settled in the Upper Valley again or simply came to visit New London, she welcomed them with open arms.
“She was so wonderful. She was funny and had good stories about all sorts of things, the history of the university, the city, different people in the city, ”said Bonnie Lewis, a former student and one of Irving’s longtime friends.
After Lewis moved back to New London, the two settled down, and Irving shared gossip about the school that later became Colby-Sawyer College — though nothing was too outrageous. Lewis said she would comment that “I did not know anything about it” when she signed up.
“She would always laugh and say ‘it’s because you should not,’ ‘Lewis said.
Friends say Irving possessed a quick humor and can-do attitude that often saw her take on jobs — from home repair to pursuing for students — without a second thought. She was also a pioneer and also elevated Colby Junior College’s medical technology program to a leading school that saw hospitals compete for its graduates.
These are the qualities that friends and former students say they will miss about Irving after she died on August 7, 2021, just 10 days before her 101st birthday.
Irving was born in Brookline, Mass., On August 17, 1920 to Mary (Chapman) and Fredrick Carpenter Irving, a famous obstetrician who also served as governor of the American College of Surgeons.
Her older sister, Frances, also worked in the histology lab at Harvard Medical School and wanted to bring tissue samples back to the family home in the suburbs of Boston.
When he discovered an interest in Frances’ work, Irving’s father decorated a room in the basement with running water and a microscope. Years later, Irving credited the Provisional Laboratory with his interest in medicine.
When it came to choosing a college, she said, there were two schools offering degrees in medical technology – the University of Minnesota and Colby Junior College.
“These days it was a long train ride to take to the University of Minnesota, while getting here was about a six-hour drive with at least one flat tire between here and Concord,” Irving said in a 2019 profile. “I had a car, so I decided it would be a lot easier to get up to Colby.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1943, Irving worked as a medical technologist in Brookline, Needham and Norwell, Mass. And during World War II, she traveled to the Dominican Republic to train staff to administer malaria tests.
Irving was called back to Colby Junior College in 1954 to teach medical technology in a program she would eventually lead and raise its standards and national recognition along the way.
When Lewis started college in 1969, she had to work her way up to Irving’s classes, which typically came in the students’ third year of education.
“She had a very comprehensive course called clinical laboratory methods,” recalls Lewis, a graduate from 1971. “You really had to be in your A-game. She had really high expectations for excellence. ”
Irving did not want her students to slack off, miss classes or break deadlines and told them that in the health field, one could not take anything at random, Lewis said.
Pastor Rebecca Cavin, who also graduated from the medical technology program in 1971, added that the classes were geared toward real-world challenges. Back then, technology often focused on laboratory work, e.g. On blood.
Cavin recalls that during a class on malaria he complained that “we are in New Hampshire” and the disease is not widespread in the granite state.
“You’re not always going to be in New Hampshire,” Irving replied.
During her nearly three-decade tenure, Irving worked to ensure that her students would travel around the world and have opportunities that other medical technology programs could not offer students.
She first did so by turning the university’s medical technology program into a bachelor’s program. Lewis said it meant taking liberal arts classes along with health care.
The change was not only about academic prestige, but also an attempt to ensure that students were well-rounded when they left school.
“I finally said to them, ‘Look, when you leave here, you’ll probably all get married, have children, and you’ll go out on social occasions – to parties or concerts – and not many people want to talk about blood and urine, She said to Colby-Sawyer two years ago.
Irving also drove to hospitals across the country to help place students on internships, which was required in their fourth year of college. When she retired, Irving estimated that she placed students in 75 hospitals in 23 states.
“When we searched different hospitals, we just had to say ‘Becky Irving’ and they would say ‘Oh, yes, come on’. Said Cavin.
Lewis said she practiced at Rhode Island Hospital, and at the beginning of her program, she was pulled aside and warned that some of what she would be taught could be equivalent to a review of what Irving was already going through. over.
“People in hospitals, when they received Colby Junior College students, they knew they were getting students who were very well prepared,” Lewis said.
When Irving finally retired in 1982, her former students worked across the country, and many were eager to stay in touch.
“While I travel around the country and talk to alumni about the college, Becky is one of the few faculty members who comes up in almost any conversation given the scope of her influence,” Colby Sawyer President Susan D. Stuebner said in an email.
“Alumni each have Becky stories about how she influenced them during their careers here in college and beyond,” Stuebner added.
Peg Andrews, a longtime friend of Irving’s who works at Colby Sawyer’s advancement office, said she has encountered similar feelings from alumni and characterized Irving as “loved by her students.”
“She pretty much ran our med-tech program, and it was probably number one with the tech program in the country while she was teaching,” Andrews said. “It was all due to Becky.”
“Her love of college was probably one of the biggest soft spots in her heart,” Andrews added, saying Irving kept grade books from her entire tenure at the college.
She also proudly presented the honorary doctorate for humane letters that the college awarded her in 2016, along with her college regalia.
Upon retirement, Irving continued a lifelong love of sailing and anchored his Herreshoff sluice, Dovekey, in Lake Sunapee. She also loved to travel, visiting Europe, Australia and Alaska with a longtime friend and travel buddy Nancy Draper.
Draper, who chaired Colby Junior College’s music department, was a dear friend, according to Lewis. And when Draper died in 2018, Irving offered to write his obituary.
Irving also spent years volunteering at the Tracy Memorial Library, where she would build shelves, change locks, repair lights and help move books, according to Missy Carroll, the library’s head of circulation.
“Becky came into the library with a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans ready for work,” Carroll said. “It was just who Becky was. She was there to make a difference. ”
Friends said Irving was very mechanically inclined and could often be seen either working on or driving his garden tractor, which she called Rudolph, to campus.
The tractor was later donated to Lewis when Irving moved into Sunapee Cove assisted housing facility on the promise that she would maintain it. Lewis said she would take pictures of the machine at work.
“It made her feel better that it was being used,” Lewis said. “And I was just so happy to have him.”
Until her death, Irving also continued to host students.
Cavin, who continued to be a bishop’s priest, was among those who visited the Upper Valley each year to share a lobster salad sandwich and some wine.
“She was just a lovely New Englander,” Cavin said, adding that Irving was happy to tell stories about the college, the town and its residents.
Cavin led Irving’s memorial service earlier this month. Prepared for the event, she estimated that about 25 people would pay their respects personally. But when the day came, the amount was easily doubled.
“It simply came to our notice then. She would never brag about it, but she was just happy to know, ”Cavin said.
Tim Camerato can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3223.