Longtime farms chief Tommy Irvin dies

9:04 a.m. Friday, Sept. 15, 2017 Local
Kimberly Smith/AJC
Tommy Irvin was Georgia's agriculture commissioner from 1969 until his retirement in 2010. (Credit: AJC file photo)

Tommy Irvin, a former agriculture commissioner who was the longest-serving statewide official in Georgia history, died on Thursday. He was 88. 

Irvin served in public office for more than a half-century, including 42 years as Georgia’s top agriculture official. Details about his death have not been released, but Irvin had suffered from Parkinson’s disease and other ailments. 

Irvin family spokeswoman Brenda James Griffin said in a statement Friday he was a “giant of a man” who leaves behind an unparalleled legacy.

“The state of Georgia, especially the agriculture community, and our nation have greatly benefitted from the tremendous leadership of Tommy Irvin,” said Griffin. “He will be remembered for his ingenuity and dedication.”

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Irvin was born in rural Hall County in 1929, the son of a tenant farmer who also worked at local sawmills. His family later moved to nearby White County. He met his wife, Bernice, while attending a fair and they were married in 1947. 

A Democrat, Irvin was elected to his first public office – a local school board – in 1956. He later served four terms in the state House and was manager of Gov. Lester Maddox’s gubernatorial campaign in 1966. Three years later, Maddox appointed him as Commissioner of Agriculture.

He was re-elected 10 times, and still holds the record as the nation’s longest-serving state ag chief.

He decided not to run for re-election in 2010, and Republican Gary Black – who unsuccessfully challenged Irvin in 2006 – won the post. In a statement Friday, Black said his commitment to education and agriculture put a “strong and admirable exclamation point on his life’s work.”

“Commissioner Irvin loved serving Georgia’s farmers and consumers for over three generations,” said Black. “He touched us all with his unsurpassed spirit of stewardship, commitment and work ethic.”

Channel 2's Matt Johnson reports.
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