Mrs. Peggy Irons was new to the nursing faculty this year, yet she had already built a strong foundation of friendship, trust and respect with all who knew her, faculty and students alike.
When she passed away suddenly on March 17, she left behind a legacy of enthusiasm and compassion that will impact BJU’s nursing department for years to come. We have interviewed some of her colleagues and students to try to capture an accurate portrait of the impact she had on the nursing family in the short seven months that she served here.
On Friday, April 4, Peggy Irons’ husband, Doug, came to thank the nursing students for a scrapbook of notes and pictures they had crafted for him. They were trying to convey to him just how much his wife had impacted them in her seven months of teaching at the University. Doug understood. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her as happy as she was here, teaching you,” he said.
Despite having more than 30 years of experience in labor and delivery nursing, including a position as nurse manager, Irons felt that all of her experiences were leading up to her dream job of teaching at a Christian university.
Around this time last year, she had simply googled “Christian nursing programs.” The link to Bob Jones University popped up, and she applied immediately.
Nursing professors Cynthia McGuire, Suelane Hannah and Robin Vedders remember being impressed by her resume, but even more impressed by her enthusiasm. She had passion for God and compassion for people. After her interview, they took her out to eat at Olive Garden and they became fast friends. The decision was easy. After further prayer by the faculty, Irons was accepted onto the nursing faculty with open arms.
So Irons, her husband and their basset hound, Willie, packed up their house in North Carolina and moved into an RV, a temporary living space until they found the right home in Greenville. While an RV does not provide ideal living conditions, Irons was perfectly content. She was teaching nursing students at a Christian university. What did she have to complain about? “She was living in an RV, but she was as happy as a lark,” Vedders said.
Her contagious enthusiasm carried over into her work as well. She was overwhelmed with appreciation for the University, reminding her fellow professors that they were blessed to be a part of God’s ministry at BJU. “It’s good for some of us who have been here a long time to see [BJU] through the eyes of someone who is new and fresh,” Hannah said. “We take so much for granted.”
McGuire remembers when she and some of her fellow professors had an important meeting to attend. They were about to head out the door, when Irons, who was not going to the meeting, said, “Let’s pray one last time.” They prayed, and the meeting was a success. While they had prayed many times prior to the meeting, Irons was the one who insisted on that one last time. “She was a prayer warrior,” McGuire said. “She was very close to the Lord.”
Irons loved her new job, but she loved her students even more. Hannah remembers Irons looking fondly over the class roster with all of her students’ pictures on it and saying, “You know, I really love my students.”
Senior Kayla Vanaman, a student in Irons’ first clinical group, said she has countless examples of Irons’ love for her students, but one personal example stands out above the rest. When Irons’ husband came to class that Friday, he brought a baby blanket that Irons had asked her neighbor to crochet for Vanaman. “She was so excited to give this to you,” he said.
This overflowing love for all students, all faculty and all patients led Irons to teaching in the first place. Junior Lyndi Yarusinsky remembers the first day of class when a nervous-looking Irons closed her computer in the middle of class, sat on her desk and said, “Guys, this is why I’m here. I was tired of seeing nurses get out of nursing school, having all of the book knowledge and having no compassion for their patients.”
Yarusinsky said she felt an immediate connection with Irons. This was why she went into nursing: to show love and compassion to people.
Yarusinsky remembers one patient during clinicals who never smiled. Yarusinsky asked Irons for some advice. “Why don’t you ask her to smile?” Irons said matter-of-factly. Yarusinsky did not think the solution could be so simple, but she went ahead and asked her patient for a smile. And the patient smiled one huge smile before returning to a blank expression. Yarusinsky remembers telling Irons, who was just as excited for this small success as she was. “It was my best clinical experience and my best memory with Mrs. Irons,” she said.
After that first clinical, the students put together a collage of silly-face pictures for Irons. Vanaman said they didn’t think much of it, but when they gave it to her, she cried.
Irons loved her students, and her students loved her in return. Nearly every student attended Irons’ funeral. A member of the church where the funeral took place asked Hannah if the students were required to attend, but she replied, “No, they came because they loved Mrs. Irons.”
This love was evident on Monday, March 17, around 7:30 p.m., when the students received the news of Irons’ sudden death. They immediately gathered in the Margaret Mack study lounge for prayer, singing and the exchanging of memories about Irons. The next day, the nursing students and faculty joined together again in prayer and mutual encouragement.
The nursing students were already like a family, but enduring this hardship together has broken down a wall, bringing them to a whole new level of friendship. This unity was evident in the genuine concern that Hannah’s students showed for her because Irons was her office mate. She remembers one student even asking her if she would like to come over for dinner one night.
Hannah said she was immensely proud of the nursing students for showing maturity in the midst of this heartbreak. “Mrs. Irons would be honored,” she said.
What are the students and faculty taking away from this situation? The brevity of life and the sovereignty of God, McGuire said. Only God knows how long we have on this earth, so we must strive to serve the Lord with excellence and not seek after lesser things, she said.
Junior Victoria Simonaire agreed, saying you have no excuse not to make an impact where you are right now because God put you there, and He is not bound by limitations of time, talent, appearance, intelligence or any other excuse that you can think of making for yourself. Irons was at BJU for a short seven months, but she impacted all of her students and her fellow faculty members with her love, passion and enthusiasm.
Even in her death, God has used Irons for his glory. A sophomore nursing student gave her life to Christ after being confronted so closely with the brevity of life.
Vedders was supposed to attend Aida with Irons the week she passed away. “That’s okay,” Vedders said. “She’s hearing even better singing in heaven.”
Irons was also supposed to close on a house the week she died. But that, too, is okay. “She went to a different house,” McGuire said. “She has a mansion now.”