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Saturday essay: A Comet for Heaven |

Saturday essay: A Comet for Heaven

| Saturday, March 25, 2006 12:00 a.m

The accomplishments of the late K. Leroy Irvis, a Pittsburgh civil rights icon and the first black to become speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, have been well reported and eloquently eulogized. Only a smidgeon, however, was written of his passion for flying model airplanes.

I was not aware of that until my brother, Scott, a modeler in Ohio, surprised me with an e-mail Sunday about Mr. Irvis’ friendship with our late father who, to put it kindly, struggled with race relations. They first met about 15 years ago at a “fly-in” in Steubenville, Ohio.

“Lee flew an old-time airplane, a Comet sailplane, that Dad had built a couple of in the early ’40s, and that spurred Dad to talk with him when he was done,” my brother wrote. “They literally spent the whole afternoon talking.

“I think the old man learned a lot that day, seeing someone he probably thought was very different from him enjoying the same things, learning that he had a lot of the same values.”

My brother recounts how Irvis “was always friendly and funny, even when he was ill. He was such a regular guy I was surprised to learn all he accomplished in his lifetime. Those (flying) contests just aren’t going to be the same without him.”

But heaven — with Lee Irvis, his Comet sailplane and, I hope, an eternal flying buddy — sure will be a lot more fun.

— Colin McNickle

Categories: News
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