Audrey P. Irons of North Andover, Mass, died on April 14 of natural causes after being in declining health for several years. She was 97, and a resident of Groton for 62 years.
Mrs. Irons was the wife of the late Richard K. “Doc” Irons, history teacher and tennis and debating coach at Groton School from 1934 to 1973. She often said she adopted the role of a schoolmaster’s wife as a kind of happy destiny. She became an active and revered participant in the life of the school while raising three sons.
“Like many faculty wives of her era, Audrey Irons was a stalwart of school activities and town organizations, from our student dramatic productions to the Red Cross and the local PTA,” said Bill Polk, a Groton student in the ’50s, who was headmaster from 1978 to 2003. “If she was involved, the activity or event was run properly and promptly.
“Audrey gave as much attention to Doc’s young club football players as she did to his sixth form Toynbee tutorial students or a Groton colleague, parent or trustee. When speaking with you, she never looked over your shoulder for someone else. She gave you her attention because she was genuinely interested in what you were doing and thinking.
“At a blood drive one year, I remember getting up from the recovery table before the appointed time and heading for the cookies and juice. Audrey intercepted me with a stern admonition and had me lying back down within seconds. Later, she escorted me to the refreshment table and with a laugh gave me an extra box of cookies.
“She and Doc were a wonderful team, whose friendship as student and headmaster I valued and remember with great affection.”
Audrey Priscilla Radcliffe, born in Salisbury, England on November 11, 1912, was the third child of Clifford and Caroline Radcliffe. Her mother, one of the first women magistrates in England, raised the family on her own after her husband’s death in 1915. Miss Radcliffe graduated from the Benenden School in Kent in 1930.
She met her future husband at a New Year’s Eve dance in Wilmington, Delaware in 1937 while on an extended visit to family and friends in the United States. She would recall later that he had telephoned four times before she awoke on New Year’s Day. A brief courtship resulted in a spring engagement and marriage in July 1938 in Salisbury Cathedral with the participation of the Rev. Endicott Peabody, the founding rector of Groton School.
Shortly after settling into the house on the Groton School campus where they lived for the next 34 years, they were greeted by the 1938 hurricane. Mrs. Irons said she had been promised the glories of New England autumn colors and Indian summer and wondered what other surprises were in store.
With the arrival of World War II, Mrs. Irons began volunteer work with the American Red Cross, which she continued for 55 years, eventually managing its blood donation activities throughout the Nashoba Valley District. Upon her retirement in 1997 at age 85, she received the Clara Barton Award, the highest honor given to Red Cross volunteers.
An avid reader, she encouraged the practice in her family, often giving her children and grandchildren books as gifts. Fond of board and card games, she used them as teaching opportunities. She always regarded crossword puzzles as a community sport and opportunity for family interaction.
She taught her children early to value the Groton Public Library. Owen Shuman, the library’s current director, said “I have a clear image of her on the day the architects presented the model of the new library. She made a special point of being there that day and showed such keen interest in the project. She was an unassuming presence and one would never have known she had plans to make a leading early gift to our endowment. I am always humbled and impressed when individuals quietly give to the institutions they care about.”
In the 1950s and ’60s, the Irons family spent summers on Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. Mrs. Irons managed the private Camp Ossipee at the tip of Wolfeboro Neck while her husband coached tennis and ran the counselor-training program at nearby Camp Wyanoke, where the sons were all campers and then counselors.
After her husband retired from teaching in 1972, they moved to a 19th Century converted carriage house on Main Street in Groton, where she lived for the next 28 years. An optimistic gardener who shared her husband’s environmental and conservation concerns, she loved all things outdoors, especially before the arrival of mosquitoes and heat. Together, they transformed their retirement home landscape with hyacinths, daffodils, tulips, squills, day lilies, gladiolas, roses, and annual and perennial cutting beds; strategically placed spring-flowering trees and bushes; and the judicious clearing of scores of ash trees to provide views from the barn’s huge screen porch to the James Brook wetlands and the Lawrence Academy playing fields. It became a favorite vacation spot for visiting grandchildren in every season.
In 2000, seven years after her husband’s death, Mrs. Irons moved from Groton to the Edgewood assisted-living retirement community in North Andover. She celebrated her 90th birthday two years later with a family reunion that included all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In her early years at Groton, she learned the rules and fine points of baseball from her husband and became an avid Red Sox fan. The family usually made at least one annual trip to Fenway Park, and she was still tuning in to Red Sox games as the team began its 2010 season.
She is survived by her three sons, Alden of Arlington, Va.; Clifford of Byfield, Mass.; and David of New York City; five grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.
A memorial service is scheduled for 1:00 PM at the Groton School Chapel on Saturday, June 26. Contributions in lieu of flowers may be made to the Groton Public Library, Groton School and the Central Massachusetts Chapter of the American Red Cross.
This obituary appeared in The Groton Landmark on April 30, 2010.