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Tommy Irvin, longtime Georgia agriculture head, dies at 88

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GAINESVILLE, Ga. — Tommy Irvin, who served in public office for more than a half-century, including 42 years as Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture, died Sept. 14.

Irvin hold the record as the longest service state commissioner of agriculture in the nation and the longest service statewide official in Georgia.

Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary W. Black stated, “Commissioner Irvin loved serving Georgia’s farmers and consumers for over three generations. He touched us all with his unsurpassed spirit of stewardship, commitment and work ethic. Beyond agriculture, his commitment to education put a strong and admirable exclamation point on his life’s work. We pray for and offer our condolences to the Irvin family during this difficult period.”

Irvin served 10 terms as Georgia’s commissioner of agriculture, from 1969 until January 2011.

A Hall County (Ga.) native, Irvin was elected to his first public office as a member of the Habersham County (Ga.) Board of Education in 1956. He later served as school board chairman and president of the Georgia School Boards Association.

He was first elected to the state House of Representatives from Habersham County in 1957. In 1966, he managed Gov. Lester Maddox’s gubernatorial campaign and three years later, Maddox appointed him as commissioner of agriculture.

Irvin served as president of the Southern and National Associations of State Departments of Agriculture and as president of the Southern United States Trade Association.

He received the National Award for Excellence by the National Agri-Marketing Association, The National Future Farmers of America Honorary American Farmer Degree and  the Southeastern Poultry & Egg Association’s ‘Workhorse of the Year’ award.

He also received Distinguished Service Awards from the University of Georgia of Veterinary Medicine and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Irvin was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the National 4-H, Georgia Agrirama, Georgia Seed Association, Habersham County, Hall County and the University of Georgia College of Agriculture.

In 1996, a portion of Georgia Highway 365 was named Tommy Irvin Parkway in his honor.

Whitfield Funeral Home, North Chapel, in Demorest, Ga., is handling arrangements.

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