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Historic Legislative Leader, Pitt Alumnus Celebrated at Residence Hall Dedication

Speakers gather at K. Leroy Irvis Hall. From left: Pitt Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement and Chief of Staff Kathy W. Humphrey; D. Michael Fisher, circuit judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; Pennsylvania State Representative Jake Wheatley Jr.; Pitt Board of Trustees Chairperson Eva Tansky Blum; Vaughn Clagette, Pitt African American Alumni Council president; Swanson School of Engineering undergraduate student Isaiah Spencer; Cathryn Irvis, widow of K. Leroy Irvis; and Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallaghe

The newly renamed residence hall standing at the pinnacle of the University of Pittsburgh campus honors a man widely admired for his empathy, dedication and lifelong public service.

“K. Leroy Irvis Hall overlooks the entire University that its namesake loved so much,” said Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “My wish is for the students who reside here to remember the man whose story and sacrifice are woven into Pitt’s fabric and that they answer his call to champion positive change.”

Nearly 200 people gathered Sept. 25 for the dedication ceremony celebrating the legacy of K. Leroy Irvis, the historic Pennsylvania legislative leader who also was a Pitt alumnus and a University trustee. The residence hall — formerly called Pennsylvania Hall, which stands adjacent to the John M. and Gertrude E. Petersen Events Center — is the first building at Pitt named in honor of an African-American.

Kathy Humphrey and Mrs. Irvis

Pitt’s Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement and Chief of Staff Kathy W. Humphrey welcomes Cathryn Irvis, widow of K. Leroy Irvis, during ceremony festivities.

Irvis served as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1959 to 1988. In 1977, he was elected speaker of the house, becoming the first African-American presiding officer of any state legislative body since the Reconstruction Era. During his legislative tenure, Irvis sponsored more than 1,600 bills, including the legislation that established Pitt, Lincoln University, Pennsylvania State University and Temple University as state-related institutions.

 

During the ceremony, a mural of K. Leroy Irvis was unveiled. Gallagher also presented Cathryn Irvis, widow of K. Leroy Irvis, with the resolution from Pitt’s Board of Trustees that formally named K. Leroy Irvis Hall in June.

Pennsylvania State Representative Jake Wheatley Jr., who represents the same district K. Leroy Irvis served for nearly 30 years, reflected on Irvis’ dedication to young people and the importance of educating future generations.

“I hold K. Leroy Irvis in the highest of regards. He was a mentor of mine for many years,” said Wheatley, a Pitt alumnus and trustee. Irvis was a supportive voice during Wheatley's initial campaign for state representative in 2002 and in the following years served as his mentor, Wheatley said. Irvis died in 2006. “Speaker Irvis taught me how to be a statesman and a champion of all people. Occasions such as this provide an opportunity to reflect on his rich legacy as well as the continuously progressive direction of the University of Pittsburgh.”

In addition to Wheatley, notable speakers included Pitt’s African American Alumni Council President Vaughn Clagette and D. Michael Fisher, a circuit judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. In addition to Gallagher, Pitt officials offering remarks included Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement and Chief of Staff Kathy W. Humphrey and Eva Tansky Blum, chairperson for the Board of Trustees.

Laurence Glasco, an associate professor in Pitt’s Department of History, also attended the affair. Glasco is writing a biography on Irvis, based on hundreds of hours of research and frequent interactions with Irvis in the years prior to his death. Glasco described the project as one of the most personally enriching pursuits of his professional career.

“K. Leroy Irvis was my friend, and I consider it an honor that he considered me his friend,” said Glasco. “One of the things that I remember most about him was his genuine empathy towards people, all people, regardless of race, religion or social class. He truly was a man of the people.” 

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