Dr. Linda Ann (Haren) Irwin-DeVitis, 71

September 29, 2019

Dr. Linda Ann (Haren) Irwin-DeVitis, 71, died on September 15, 2019, at home in Leonardtown, MD.

She had waged a brave three-year battle against complications from ALS.

Linda was born on January 12, 1948, in Maryville, TN. She was beloved by her family and friends. Her devoted husband of 32 years, Joseph L. DeVitis, shared her quest for education reform and social justice. Linda’s daughter Leigh Garrett Irwin, and her wife Catherine Ford Irwin, along with their three children, Harper Lunn Irwin, Dorothy Kai Irwin, and Silas Ford Irwin were a great source of joy and were especially supportive as she battled ALS. Linda was preceded in death by her parents, Dorothy (Lunn) Haren and Edward Boyd Haren II, long-time residents of Maryville, TN. Linda is dearly missed by her siblings, Edward Boyd Haren III (Houston, TX), Sally (Neaves) Haren (Jacksonville, FL), Martha (Haren) McCampbell (South Bend, IN) and Marilew (Haren) Bartling (Las Vegaas, NV), their spouses, and many nieces, nephews, and cousins. Many of the above were able to be at Linda’s bedside, expressing their love and gratitude, as she passed away. Her good friends Patricia (Davis) Lynch (New Orleans, LA) and Amanda (Hall) Massey (Atlanta, GA) were also in attendance.

After graduating from Maryville (TN) High School in 1965, Linda received her B. S. and Ed.D. from the University of Tennessee and her M.Ed. from the University of New Orleans. Throughout her career, she focused on promoting educational opportunity and social justice. She was a dedicated public school teacher in New Orleans and Orange County (FL) and a highly successful college teacher and university administrator for nearly 50 years. Linda taught at the University of Tennessee at Martin, the State University of New York at Oneonta (where she was also Education Department chair), and Binghamton University (SUNY). She was associate dean of Education and Human Development at the University of Louisville and dean of the College of Education at Georgia College in Milledgeville and Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA.

Linda had a distinguished career of academic leadership. At Binghamton, she coordinated its GEAR UP program, which provides services to high-poverty middle and high school classrooms. As dean at Georgia College, her unit was awarded the 2008 Richard Wisniewski Award by the Society of Professors of Education for innovation in teacher education. It was also a finalist for the National Christa McAuliffe Excellence in Teaching Award. Linda was instrumental in the development of the Georgia College Early College for grades 7-12, which prepares students to complete high school and gives them the opportunity to earn college credit as an alternative to more traditional secondary education. At Old Dominion, she saw its College of Education rise to its highest national ranking ever among U.S. schools of education. Linda led the planning for the new ODU Education Building and brought some of the most prominent education scholars in America to Norfolk for university-wide and community events. One of her principal priorities was to forge closer ties between ODU and local area schools.

According to Maurice Berube, Eminent Scholar Emeritus of Educational Leadership at ODU: “Linda was a wonderful dean. She had a vision for what education should be and held high expectations for faculty and students. Linda wanted her students to be critical thinkers and give back to American society. Always an advocate for social change in the nation, she worked on the ground level with groups for a better America.” ODU Professor William Owings and his wife, Dr. Leslie Kaplan, remembered Linda as a “wonderful wife to Joe, mother to their daughter, and grandmother of three. As a scholar, she was always reading and staying current with the literature and emerging issues in education. At dinner, we would mention a topic, and she would fill us in with the history, the people, the politics, and the issue’s meaning for education. She was also a skilled host who threw the best parties with lively guests and plenty of good food and drink. As a friend, we will miss her dearly.”

She was a highly respected scholar. Upon completing her doctorate, she received the Dissertation of the Year award from the College Reading Association. She wrote many scholarly articles and book chapters; and she co-authored two books on graphic organizers for K-8 classrooms, focusing on strategies for authentic learning. Linda co-edited (with her husband Joe) Adolescent Education (2011), which won the Critics Choice Award from the American Educational Studies Association as an outstanding academic book of the year. She grounded her education work in the highest principles of democratic practice–with respect for teachers, students, and parents and a keen sensitivity to constructing humane communities.

Linda was a social activist. In the summers of 2000 and 2001, she led a cadre of Binghamton University (NY) students in a reading program for youth in Sunflower County, Mississippi, in the Delta area–one of the poorest regions in the country. In retirement in Palm Springs, California, while battling ALS, she and her husband challenged social inequities and injustices by hosting group meetings at their home for the progressive Courageous Resistance movement. On the individual level in California, she was a volunteer for CASA (National Court Appointed Special Advocate Association), assisting a vulnerable teenager in judicial and educational matters.

She enjoyed lively conversation, reading, travel, good food and cinema. Most especially, Linda wanted to be with her immediate family–husband Joe, daughter Leigh, daughter-in-law Catherine, and grandchildren Harper (age 2), Kai (age 2), and Silas (age 3). In her final years, they were her devoted caretakers; she had been the rock in their lives.

Linda’s many family members, friends, and colleagues will always cherish her gracious kindness and generosity, her loving warmth, her hearty laughter, and her powerful moral compass. ALS could not take those gifts from her. In the end, Linda judged society by how well it treats its children. She had the courage to engage in their struggles and promise. She fought to break down the walls that divide us. Today’s often fractured world is diminished without her, but Linda’s example will continue to bring light and hope our way.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in her name to CASA (the gift may be specified for a local or state chapter of one’s choice). Please see https://casaforchildren.org/our-work/programs/ for this information. Linda chose to be cremated. There will be a ceremony in her honor for family members and friends in the spring of 2020 in the Great Smoky Mountains near her hometown of Maryville, TN.

Condolences to the family may be made at www.brinsfieldfuneral.com.

Arrangements by the Brinsfield Funeral Home, P.A., Leonardtown, MD.