Tommy Irvin

Last updated
Tommy Irvin
Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture
In office
Preceded by Phil Campbell
Succeeded by Gary Black
Governor Lester Maddox
Jimmy Carter
George Busbee
Joe Frank Harris
Zell Miller
Roy Barnes
Sonny Perdue
Personal details
Thomas Telford Irvin

(1929-07-14)July 14, 1929
Lula, Georgia
DiedSeptember 14, 2017(2017-09-14) (aged 88)
Mount Airy, Georgia
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s)Bernice Frady

Thomas Telford Irvin [1] (July 14, 1929 – September 14, 2017) served as Georgia's Commissioner of Agriculture from 1969 until January 2011. Irvin holds a record as the longest-serving Commissioner of Agriculture in the United States, and the longest-serving statewide official in Georgia. [2] He was also one of the last Democrats to win statewide in Georgia until 2020, when Joe Biden won the presidential election.


Political career

Irvin was born on July 14, 1929. [3] A Hall County, Georgia native, Irvin was elected to his first public office as a member of the Habersham County Board of Education in 1956. [2] A Democrat, Irvin was elected to four terms in the Georgia General Assembly as a Representative from Habersham County, where he served on the House Agriculture, Education, and Appropriations Committees and chaired the House Industrial Relations Committee and the Governor's Conference on Education. [2] During this period he sponsored legislation to allow public funding of school lunch programs. [4] [5] He was the Governor's Floor Leader and later served as Executive Secretary to the Governor. [2]

He was a delegate to the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Democratic National Conventions. [3]

In 2000, Irvin made his first trip to Cuba, representing Georgia agriculture in support of free trade with the country. [6]

He was elected to his 10th and final four-year term in November 2006. [2] Rather than run for another term he retired, citing his age and Parkinson's disease as reasons for the decision. [7]

In 1998, a portion of Georgia Highway 365 was named Tommy Irvin Parkway in his honor. [4]


Irvin's final term was not without controversy. Both Irvin and the Department of Agriculture were sued for permitting the inhumane killing of dogs and cats. In 1990, Georgia's "Humane Euthanasia Act" became one of the first laws in the nation to mandate intravenous injection of sodium pentobarbital as the prescribed method for euthanizing cats and dogs in Georgia animal shelters. Prior to that time, gas chambers and other means were commonly employed. Irvin's department was tasked with licensing the shelters and enforcing the new law, through the Department's Animal Protection Division. However, Commissioner Irvin insisted the issue was a local one, and did not abide by the terms of the law. [8] [9] In March 2007, the Georgia Department of Agriculture and Commissioner Irvin were sued by former State Representative Chesley V. Morton, who had sponsored the law. [10] The Fulton County Superior Court ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs, validating the terms of the Humane Euthanasia Act, and issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the Department from issuing licenses to shelters using gas chambers, with exceptions being made for those established before the act and those in counties with less than 25,000 residents. [11] [12] After the Court decision, and issuance of the permanent injunction, Irvin continued to voice resistance to the ruling. In an interview with a south Georgia newspaper, Irvin suggested possible ways to circumvent the law, including the use of private contractors to operate gas chambers. [13] When the Department continued to license a gas chamber in Cobb County, Georgia, in violation of the court order, a second action was brought, which resulted in the Department being held in contempt. [14] The cases received widespread coverage in the media, casting Irvin in an unfavorable light.

Personal life

Irvin grew up the child of poor sharecroppers. When his father died, Irvin quit school to take care of his mother and sisters, running the business for several years until he got into local politics. [5]

Irvin was inducted into the 4-H Hall of Fame in 2007, and he and his wife funded scholarships for youth. [15]

He was a trustee at several schools, including Piedmont College and Truett-McConnell College. [4] Irvin also served as school board chairman and president of the Georgia School Boards Association. [2] He died at his home in Mount Airy, Georgia on September 14, 2017 at the age of 88. [16] [17]

See also

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Official biography" . Retrieved 15 September 2017.
  2. 1 2 Kestenbaum, Lawrence (2009-03-24). "The Political Graveyard: Index to Politicians: Irvin" . Retrieved 2009-06-10.
  3. 1 2 3 Rivers, Jr., Robert E. "SR 639 - Tommy Irvin Parkway - designate". Georgia General Assembly. Georgia House of Representatives. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  4. 1 2 "After 41 years in office, Tommy Irvin prepares to step aside". The Produce News. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  5. Galloway, Jim. "In rethinking Cuba policy, Donald Trump could be picking a fight with Georgia farmers". AJC. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
  6. Burress, Jim. "Georgia Ag. Commissioner to Retire". GPB Media. Georgia Public Broadcasting. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  7. Jana Cone (March 14, 2007). "Wells: I did what I was told". Tifton Gazette. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
  8. "Georgia agriculture commissioner: Gassing of strays is local issue". March 14, 2007.
  9. "Chesley V. Morton v. Georgia Department of Agriculture and Tommy Irvin in his Official Capacity as Commissioner" (PDF). March 12, 2007.
  10. "Judge Orders Georgia to Enforce Law Preventing Use of Animal Shelter Gas Chambers". FoxNews. March 23, 2007. Retrieved January 1, 2017.
  11. "Judge Issues Permanent Injunction Against Illegal Use of Gas Chambers in Georgia". Animal Law Coalition. March 23, 2009. Retrieved January 1, 2017.
  12. "Irvin talks about gas chamber". Tifton Gazette. 2007-06-13. Retrieved 2017-09-17.
  13. "Georgia in contempt for gas chamber use". The Augusta Chronicle/Associated Press. 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2016-09-16.
  14. "Georgia 4-H Inductee - 2007". The National 4-H Hall of Fame. The University of Georgia and Ft. Valley State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and counties of the state cooperating. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  16. Foreman, Lauren; Bluestein, Greg. "BREAKING: Longtime farms chief Tommy Irvin dies". ajc. Retrieved 15 September 2017.
Preceded by
Phil Campbell
Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture
Succeeded by
Gary Black