Wilkes County Hall of Fame 613 Cherry St, North Wilkesboro, NC 28659 • (336) 667-1121

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Irene Adelaide Parsons

Year Inducted: 2016

Irene Parsons, a Wilkes County native, graduated from Brevard College and from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She received a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Irene graduated with a degree in Business in 1941 and started teaching high school business at Roanoke Rapids. When the Civil Service came to recruit her students, they recruited her as well. While working in the Civil Service office she joined the Women’s Coast Guard and was chosen to attend the first Coast Guard Academy for women. She became a Coast Guard Lieutenant and served during WW II in Washington. During her service in the Coast Guard she had the opportunity to meet with Eleanor Roosevelt in the White House to discuss the service of women in the war effort.

In 1946, she began her career with the Veteran’s Administration in Washington, D.C. She advanced through successive promotions to the position Director of Personnel in 1961 for three agency departments. In 1965, she was appointed by President Johnson as an Assistant Administrator and Director of Personnel of the Veteran’s Administration, the second largest government agency with over 170,000 employees in 180 hospitals and many regional offices. Her appointment was the highest position ever held by a woman in the Veteran’s Administration and the highest personnel position ever held by a woman in United States Government at that time. She was recognized in more than 500 newspapers in the United States and around the world.

Her leadership brought honor to her agency and she was recognized in the Congressional Record for making the “VA personnel operation one of the most successful in government.” She was also recognized in the Congressional Record for contributing greatly to the Veteran’s Administration’s exceptional accomplishments of advancing “equal employment opportunity for women and minorities.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson called her “the can-do lady” and appointed her to the National Status of Women Commission. Irene was also a Charter Member of the Women’s Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C. For her leadership and management of programs for veterans and their families, she received many awards and honors such as the American Veterans Committee’s Silver Helmet Award; being the first woman to ever receive this honor. She was named the “Civil Servant of the Year in 1970. A quote from the program when she received this award read, “Success for this gentle woman did not occur instantaneously. It was achieved through diligent work, the application of a brilliant mind and nourished by a deep concern for her fellow man.”

She received the Federal Woman’s Award and the Civil Service League Award. Other honors she received included the Hall of Fame Award from Brevard College, Distinguished Alumni Award from George Washington University, and an Honorary Doctor of Law Degree from the University of North Carolina. After her retirement, she lived in East Hampton, New York, Mount Dora, Florida and finally returned to home in Wilkes County in 1997. She was involved in several community organizations and projects. She was a very generous person who received true joy from giving and helping others.