Valley News – One Life: Becky Irving; “You really had to be on your A-game”


NEW LONDON – For Becky Irving, the generations of students she taught for 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 traveled to hospitals and healthcare facilities around the world, she felt pride.

And when they relocated to the Upper Valley, or just came to visit New London, she welcomed them with open arms.

“She was so awesome. She was funny and had great stories about all kinds of things, the history of the college, the city, the different people in the city, ”said Bonnie Lewis, a former student and one of her longtime friends. ‘Irving.

After Lewis returned to New London, the two sat down and Irving shared gossip about the school that would later become Colby-Sawyer College – although nothing too outrageous. Lewis said she would comment that “I didn’t know any of this” when she signed up.

“She was still laughing and saying ‘it’s because you’re not supposed to do it,’” Lewis said.

Friends say Irving had a sharp wit and a dynamic attitude that often took her to jobs – from home repairs to student advocacy – without a second thought. A pioneer, she also elevated Colby Junior College’s medical technology program to a leading school, a school that has seen hospitals compete for graduates.

These are the qualities that friends and alumni say they will miss in Irving after his death on August 7, 2021, just 10 days before his 101st birthday.

Irving was born in Brookline, Massachusetts on August 17, 1920, to Mary (Chapman) and Fredrick Carpenter Irving, a renowned 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 brought tissue samples back to the family’s home in suburban Boston.

Noticing an interest in Frances’ work, Irving’s father sets up a basement room with running water and a microscope. Years later, Irving credited the makeshift lab with piquing 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.

“At that time, going to college in Minnesota was (a long) train journey whereas coming 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 come to Colby.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in 1943, Irving worked as a medical technologist at 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 recalled to Colby Junior College in 1954 to teach medical technology in a program she would eventually lead, raising her standards and national recognition along the way.

When Lewis started college in 1969, she had to make her way to Irving’s classes, which usually entered the third year of student training.

“She had a very comprehensive course called Clinical Laboratory Methods,” recalls Lewis, a 1971 graduate. “You really had to be on your A-game. She had very high expectations for excellence.

Irving didn’t want his students slacking off, skipping class, or running past deadlines, telling them that in healthcare “you can’t take anything casually,” Lewis said.

Reverend Rebecca Cavin, who also graduated from the medical technology program in 1971, added that the classes focused on real-world challenges. The technology of the day often focused on laboratory work, such as blood.

Cavin remembers complaining in a malaria class that “we are in New Hampshire” and that the disease is not widespread in Granite State.

“You won’t always be in New Hampshire,” Irving replied.

During his nearly three-decade tenure, Irving has worked to ensure that his students travel the world and are offered opportunities that other medical technology programs could not offer students.

She first did this by transforming the college’s medical technology program into a bachelor’s degree course. Lewis said that meant taking liberal arts classes with those in health care.

The change was not just a matter of academic prestige, but also an effort to ensure that students were well-balanced upon leaving school.

“I finally said to them, ‘Look, when you leave here you’re probably all going to get married, have kids, and you’re going to go out on social occasions – to parties or concerts – and not a lot of people. are going to want to talk about blood and urine, ”she told Colby-Sawyer two years ago.

Irving also visited hospitals across the country to help students with internships, which was needed during their fourth year of college. By the time she retired, Irving estimated that she had placed students in 75 hospitals in 23 states.

“When we applied to various hospitals, we just had to say ‘Becky Irving’ and they’d say ‘Oh, yeah, come on. ”Cavin said.

Lewis said she was interned at Rhode Island Hospital and at the start of her program was sidelined and warned that part of what she would be taught may amount to an exam of what Irving had already explained.

“The people in the hospitals, when they accepted students from Colby Junior College, they knew they were getting very well prepared students,” Lewis said.

When Irving finally retired in 1982, his former students were working across the country and many were eager to keep in touch.

“As I travel the country talking to alumni about the college, Becky is one of the few faculty members who comes into almost every conversation given the extent of her influence,” said the president of Colby Sawyer, Susan D. Stuebner, in an email.

“The alumni each have stories from Becky of how she influenced them during their careers here in college and beyond,” added Stuebner.

Peg Andrews, a longtime friend of Irving who works in Colby Sawyer’s advancement office, said she encountered a similar feeling from alumni and called Irving “beloved of his students “.

“She was basically running our medical technology program and it was probably the number one medical technology program in the country while she was teaching,” Andrews said. “It was all due to Becky. ”

“His love for college was probably one of the biggest weak spots in his heart,” Andrews added, saying Irving kept notebooks throughout his tenure at college.

She also proudly displayed the honorary doctorate of humanities awarded to her by the college in 2016, as well as her academic insignia.

Retired, Irving continued to love sailing forever, anchoring his Herreshoff sloop, Dovekey, in Lake Sunapee. She also enjoyed traveling, visiting Europe, Australia and Alaska with her longtime friend and travel companion Nancy Draper.

Draper, who chaired the music department at Colby Junior College, was a dear friend, according to Lewis. And when Draper passed away in 2018, Irving offered to write her obituary.

Irving also spent years volunteering at the Tracy Memorial Library, where she built shelves, changed locks, fixed lights and helped move books, according to Missy Carroll, the library’s director of circulation.

“Becky walked into the library with a sweatshirt and a pair of ready-to-work jeans,” Carroll said. “It’s just who Becky was. She was there to make a difference.

Friends said Irving was very mechanically inclined and could often be seen working or driving his garden tractor, which she called Rudolph, on campus.

The tractor was then given to Lewis when Irving moved into the Sunapee Cove assisted living facility on a promise that she will keep it. Lewis said she would take pictures of the machine at work.

“It helped her feel better, get used to it,” Lewis said. “And I was so happy that I could have it.”

Until his death, Irving also continued to host students.

Cavin, who became an Episcopal priest, was among them, visiting the Upper Valley each year to share a lobster salad sandwich and wine.

“She was just delicious New England,” Cavin said, adding that Irving was thrilled to tell stories about the college, the city and its residents.

Cavin presided over Irving’s memorial service earlier this month. In preparing for the event, she estimated that around 25 people would honor her in person. However, when the day came, the crowds easily doubled that down.

“It had an effect on all of us. She would never brag about it, but she was just thrilled to know it, ”Cavin said.

Tim Camerato can be contacted at [email protected] or 603-727-3223.

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