A Tribute to Georgia Kennedy Irvin (1932–2018)
by Helen Austern Colson ’53

A Tribute to Georgia Kennedy Irvin (1932–2018)

Georgia Irvin, who led the Sidwell Friends Admissions and Financial Aid Office from 1969 to 1984, was a passionate advocate for children who were not receiving the education she felt they deserved. During her 15 years at the School, and thereafter as an educational consultant and author, she had a national reputation for professionalism and creativity. She was a frequent speaker on admissions topics and a recipient of the prestigious William B. Bretnall Award from the Secondary School Admission Test Board. 

Georgia changed the lives of thousands of students; many remain grateful to her today. She persuaded Sidwell Friends to admit increasing numbers of less-privileged students, and she never forgot them once they arrived. She reached out to their teachers to check on their progress, and she invited students who might fall behind to do their homework at a small student desk in the Admissions Office.

After Georgia left Sidwell Friends, she founded Georgia K. Irvin and Associates, where she provided compassionate consulting and advocacy for families in Washington and well beyond, who were trying to find the right school for their children. Sometimes these were children with special needs. To serve them, Georgia learned about and visited boarding schools throughout the country that successfully help those with addiction and other issues. She followed many of the students she placed at these schools until they were adults, and she rejoiced in their eventual successes.

There also were a few children whom very few knew about and for whom Georgia was a personal philanthropist, underwriting their high school and college educations because, she said, “There is nobody else to do it.”

And finally there were her own children and grandchildren, whom she called “the precious ones” and who brought her great joy: Stuart Irvin ’80, Kate Irvin ’81, Molly Irvin ’16, Elizabeth Irvin ’19, and Isabelle Irvin ’24. During the last few decades, she relished the opportunity to drive her grandchildren to their activities. Lower School and Middle School Grandparents’ Days were a priority. Her family continues its active support of the School today: Daughter-in-law Carrie Irvin is co-clerk of the Parents Association.

Friends who were attracted by Georgia’s patient nature and soft Southern accent were often surprised to learn about her fierce efforts to fight the racial prejudices she encountered during her childhood in South Carolina. She spent decades as an active trustee of the Black Student Fund. And was that really gentle George Irvin in a newspaper photo being arrested for protesting apartheid in front of the South African Embassy?

Her ability to make lifetime friends was unusual: Sidwell friends, friends at the Episcopal churches her husband served, neighbors, and others whom she met wherever she went, be it the polling booth, an airport, or the grocery store.  In 1978, on the day that I began work at Sidwell Friends, she sent me flowers with a note that said, “I know that we will be the best of friends.” And we were. She liked to tell her friends, “I am the person you call when you are having an appendicitis attack in the middle of the night.”

During her last year, Georgia’s caregivers also became her friends. She learned about their children, and her final philanthropy was to help those children fulfill their educational potential.

Helen Colson led the development program at Sidwell Friends between 1978 and 1990. She was acting school head in 1987 and served eight years as a trustee.