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Dr. Malene Irons

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  • Bob Forbes
    I realize this is old news to local folks but I just happened to see it today while checking the Daily Reflector on the web, and feel compelled to post. Most
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 14, 2008
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      I realize this is old news to local folks but I just happened to see
      it today while checking the Daily Reflector on the web, and feel
      compelled to post. Most anyone who grew up in Greenville in the
      1940's thru the 1960's likely remembers this amazing and trail-
      blazing woman. Obit follows:

      Eastern N.C.'s first female physician dies

      By Kathryn Kennedy
      The Daily Reflector

      Thursday, October 09, 2008

      A legacy of caring and social justice remains after the death of a
      local retired pediatrician.

      Dr. Malene Grant Irons, known simply as "Dr. Malene" to patients and
      friends, passed away Wednesday at her home in the Cypress Glen
      Retirement Community. She was 93.

      A funeral service will be held at 2 p.m. today at Jarvis Memorial
      United Methodist Church.

      "Above all is the legacy of a servant," said her son, Dr. Tom Irons,
      associate vice chancellor for regional health services at East
      Carolina University. "She practiced from a position of service...the
      physician should be on his or her knees before the patient. I've been
      powerfully touched by that."

      Dr. Malene earned a certificate in nursing from the East Carolina
      Teachers' College before enrolling in pre-medical courses at Duke
      University. She and her identical twin, Isa Costen Grant, then
      applied to Duke's medical school but were turned away.

      "They were rejected on the grounds of their frailty," Tom Irons said
      with a laugh.

      "Duke hadn't taken women at that point," he said. "They stayed up all
      night applying to colleges they knew would take women and got in to
      all of them. They were tough women."

      They selected the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond to complete
      their degrees. In 1945, Dr. Malene and her husband, the late Dr. Cary
      Frederick Irons Jr., opened practices in Greenville. She was the
      first pediatrician and female physician in eastern North Carolina.

      Local lore includes a story about Dr. Malene working in the neonatal
      ward when the hospital was still segregated, according to ECU
      spokesman John Durham. Durham recounted a tale he heard about an
      African-American baby not receiving the care it needed, so she
      brought it up to the white ward without hesitation — a solitary event
      launching her involvement in the hospital's integration.

      Dr. Malene was honored throughout her career for both medical and
      civic service. She was appointed the first director of the
      Developmental Evaluation Clinic in 1965, and in 1974 they named the
      building after her. The Kiwanis Club of Greenville once observed
      a "Dr. Malene Irons Night" in recognition of her work among
      underpriviledged children. To this day, the city of Greenville
      presents the Best-Irons Humanitarian Award annually, in honor of Dr.
      Malene and the late Dr. Andrew Best.

      "She was a truly tolerant person who believed in charity in the
      biblical sense, looking towards everyone with love and respect," Tom
      Irons said. "She was also an extraordinary thinker. Took nothing at
      face value...always questioning."

      She is survived by three sons and their families. Tom Irons said they
      were all privileged to know and be raised by Dr. Malene.

      "In her last several years, she grew more compromised in her
      thinking, but her kindness remained," Tom Irons concluded. "It was
      difficult to care for her, because she had many needs, but [Cypress
      Glen staff] all loved her."

      Memorials can be made to the Malene G. Irons Scholarship, ECU Medical
      Foundation, 525 Moye Blvd., Greenville, N.C. 27834; or the Cypress
      Glen Benevolent Fund, 600 Hickory St., Greenville, N.C. 27834; or to
      Jarvis Memorial United Methodist Church, 510 S. Washington St.,
      Greenville, N.C. 27834.

      Contact Kathryn Kennedy at kkennedy@... or (252) 329-9566.
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