When people arrive at the entrance of Columbus Air Force Base, they will receive a welcome from Happy Irby in the form of the newly-named George “Happy” Irby Parkway.
“Just as he would welcome pilots and other newcomers to the base, visitors coming into Columbus Air Force Base will be welcomed by the sign which reads George ”Happy” Irby Parkway,” said CAFB 14th Flying Training Wing Commander Col. Roger Watkins, during a dedication ceremony Friday honoring Irby.
The dedication ceremony was conducted roadside near the intersection of Mississippi Highway 786, also known as the Main Gate Road, and U.S. Highway 45 near the T-37 display.
Watkins was one of several who spoke at the event, in which more than 300 people attended, including CAFB officers and personnel, city and county officials, and family and friends of Irby.
“He always made people feel welcome. Now, with the this road being renamed George “Happy” Irby Parkway, he will still welcome all who come to the base,” Watkins said.
Watkins described Irby, who was a CAFB employee for 50 years, as an “icon” for the base. Irby died March 27, 2009, on his 94th birthday.
“He was a special man. It is hard to size up what this man did for the base and the community, especially his work with the Happy Fund. It has been such a help to those who wouldn”t have had a Christmas,” Watkins said.
The Happy Irby Christmas Fund is a thriving private organization that has benefited thousands of adults and children alike. Last year, the fund was able to provide clothing and supplies to over 400 children in the local schools and community.
In addition, the Happy Fund has delivered more than 150 fruit baskets to shut-ins and elderly who would otherwise be alone.
Irby”s son George said his father was a quiet, humble man, and that when he and the rest of the Irby children were growing up, they did not realize what their father had done, and how he was regarded throughout the base and the community.
“I want to thank Mark Alexander and others who have been the mainstay of the Happy Fund. This ceremony is an honor to me and my family for you to come out for,” he said.
Northern District Highway Commissioner Bill Minor was also present for the dedication ceremonies.
“This is an honor and privilege for me to be a part of this. I have heard many outstanding things about Mr. Irby, and this is a tremendous gesture,” he said.
Columbus Mayor Robert Smith said Irby was an icon not only to CAFB, but to Columbus and Lowndes County.
“He had dignity and respect for others, especially through his works throughout the community. I could not think of a better person to be honored,” he said.
The dedication of the George “Happy” Irby Parkway was a coordinated effort between CAFB officials, the Lowndes County Board of Supervisors and the Mississippi Legislature.
Allen Baswell was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.