Acadia mourns Arthur L. Irving

A giant in the Acadia community has passed away. Following the passing earlier today of Arthur L. Irving, Acadia has lost its most vigorous defender, ardent ambassador, enthusiastic cheerleader, and generous benefactor.

There are hardly words sufficient to express the depths of our condolences to Arthur’s family and friends, but even in our grief we are grateful for the more than seven decades of his life he shared with Acadia.   

Growing up in Saint John, New Brunswick and like many before and since, Arthur became a student at Acadia because of a family connection. His father, K.C. Irving, had been a student here, and Arthur and his two brothers, Jim (’50, ’03 DCL) and Jack (’54, ’03 DCL) Irving, and other family members followed that tradition. Arthur’s wife, Sandra, is also an alum (’74) and received an honorary degree from Acadia in 2017 in recognition of, among other things, her philanthropic leadership.

Arthur’s success in business, and in life, was founded on his belief in the importance of people and relationships. We are all the beneficiaries of his genuine warmth, his hearty handshake and ready smile. While Arthur may claim that his time spent at Acadia helped shape him as a person, he in turn has shaped the lives of countless members of the Acadia family.

Arthur was installed as Acadia’s Chancellor in 1996 and thoroughly enjoyed the work. So much so that he became the longest-serving Chancellor in the University’s history, stepping down in 2010 after three terms and more than 13 years of service on the job!

Acadia’s students were always a special focus of Arthur’s attention — at each Convocation ceremony he reminded graduating students of all the wonderful things they can accomplish with their Acadia degrees and implored them to “remember your parents” and “remember Acadia.”

Arthur practiced what he preached. When he accepted the invitation to become Acadia’s Chancellor, he did so on the condition that he could, in his words, “do something for Acadia.” A conversation over breakfast with Sandra while musing about his love of people and the outdoors led him to envision a genuine and unique gift that would have deep meaning for generations of Acadia students and faculty.

In September 2002, Arthur, Jim, and Jack, along with their families, graced Acadia’s campus with the opening of the K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre and Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens. This lasting tribute to their father, Kenneth Colin Irving (’21), and their mother, Harriet Lila Irving, was designed and built to be a place where nature, research, and technology come together in a peaceful and productive environment. The attention to detail in this now vital gathering place on campus is emblematic of what could serve as the Irving family motto: “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.”

Arthur took a personal interest in the centre and gardens, visiting often, offering wise counsel, and lending support in countless ways. The K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre and Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens are very special spots on our campus and are known as innovative places of learning where students study, give presentations, attend seminars, walk in the garden, hike the trails, attend musical and artistic performances in the Garden Room. Often referred to as Acadia’s living room, we gather here to celebrate special occasions in our community.

Arthur and Sandra expressed their affection for Acadia’s students and faculty beyond the K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre and the Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens, sometimes through the Arthur L. Irving Family Foundation, to include the Beaubassin Research Station in partnership with Irving Oil and in many other ways too numerous to count. One example that comes to mind for me, for which I know Arthur was especially proud, are of the Arthur L. Irving Scholars and Athletes who represent the essence of his promise to and aspirations for our students.

Arthur provided faculty, staff, and students with a living example of Acadia’s motto, in pulvere vinces — metaphorically, through hard work, we succeed. Regularly asking himself – “What can I do for Acadia today?” — he made his beloved Acadia a better place, and, in the process, he has taught us a great deal about leadership, kindness, tenacity, and generosity.

Acadia will never be able to repay Arthur for his lifetime of service to his alma mater, though we tried by making Arthur Acadia’s Chancellor Emeritus, awarding him an honorary degree, and establishing the Arthur L. Irving University Medal to stand among Acadia’s highest honours for individuals with a strong connection to Acadia and whose accomplishments and contributions have brought eminence to our University. Recipients must walk in Arthur’s footsteps by demonstrating an unsurpassed commitment to the future success of Acadia and by making a unique contribution to its reputation.

We mourn Arthur’s passing and extend our love and sympathies to Sandra, daughters Jennifer, Emily, and Sarah, and sons Kenneth and Arthur along with all of Arthur’s extended family and close friends as they, like us, come to terms with their monumental loss.

I invite you to spend some time reflecting on the unparalleled life of Arthur Irving and the impact he has had on Acadia. Perhaps do this while visiting the K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre and Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens website or in person, or by seeking out A Natural Balance, the book published by the K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre and Harriet Irving Botanical Gardens in 2021, celebrating the 20th anniversary of one of the greatest gifts to Acadia.

Thank you, Arthur. The Acadia family will always remember you.

Jeffrey J. Hennessy, PhD
President and Vice-Chancellor
Acadia University

Share your condolences

For those wishing to express their sentiments in writing, condolence books are placed on campus at the Manning Memorial Chapel and the K.C. Irving Environmental Science Centre. Your messages will serve as a lasting tribute to Mr. Irving’s family, and we will share them with Sandra and Sarah as a keepsake.

Mr. Irving's obituary is a testament to his life’s work; we also invite you read this tribute and share your stories and appreciation online.

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