Dr. Malene Irons
- 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.