BILLY IRWIN PASSES INTO REST
The year 1909 was a year of change for Billy Irwin. It was also a transitional year for him in which he would leave the Leadville Fire Department and became a “rising star” in Leadville-Lake county politics. His political career would last only two years however following a mortal attack of pneumonia during the height of the November mid-term election of 1910.
During the election campaign of 1908 Billy Irwin had “stumped” tirelessly to have his cousin, John W. McMahon, elected to the post of Lake County Clerk & Recorder. Upon being elected and in recognition of Billy’s effort on his behalf “Johnny” appointed Billy as his Deputy County Clerk & Recorder for the new Democratic administration beginning in January 1909.
Johnny McMahon was not entirely new to Leadville politics. He had served as the City Clerk of Leadville during the previous Democratic administration and in later years would serve as Leadville’s Postmaster. Billy, as Leadville’s Fire Chief and President of Leadville’s Eagles Lodge, was not entirely new to Leadville politics either. Nevertheless the clerical work required of Deputy County Clerk & Recorder was new to him and he went about this challenge zealously. According to his obituary less than 2 years later: “ Although he had never been engaged in the line of clerical work before, Mr. Irwin by diligent effort and much study on his part succeeded in making good in his position as deputy clerk and he ranks among the very best men that have ever held this office in Lake County.”
In mid-1910, in anticipation of the mid-term election campaign, Billy was chosen Secretary of the Democratic Party Central Committee by Democratic Party Chairman Thomas M. Rainey. By August the election campaign began in earnest and Billy became involved in this effort tenaciously…and maybe even too tenaciously! By the latter part of October he was showing signs of fatigue and a chronology to his November 5th death gleaned from the Herald Democrat follows here:
October 26th: Mr. Irwin became ill while engaged in his work at the County clerk’s office and was immediately removed to his home at 124 West 3rd Street.
October 26-29: For three days at home he remained gravely sick and on Saturday night October 29th he took a change for the worse.
October 30th: His condition was reported to be critical.
November 2nd (election day): It was reported he showed no sign of improvement and became delirious.
November 4th: Patient showing no signs of improvement and has been delirious for three days.
November 5th: At 8:00 a.m. he regained consciousness for a few minutes and talked with those who were at his bedside. He then fell back into unconsciousness and remained in that state until he died at 1:15 p.m.
On November 6th the Herald Democrat wrote an article featuring a biographical sketch of Billy Irwin and some excerpts follow here:
“Always courteous and obliging to everybody it was a pleasure to transact business with him in the clerk’s office.”
“There are few men who have won such popularity among all classes of people in this county than has “Billy” Irwin. His friends are numbered by the hosts and are composed of men, women and children in all walks of life.”
“Mr. Irwin was honest and upright in all of his dealings, true to his convictions and his friends, kind and generous to a fault, and a man held in the highest regard and esteem by all who knew him.”
“He was a man who always had the good of the community at heart and was among the very first to boost along anything that would prove of benefit to Leadville.”
“His loss is indeed a sad blow to Leadville and her citizens and his place in the community will be a hard one to fill.”
Several days after the November 6th article the Herald Democrat printed another article describing the funeral of William “Billy” Irwin:
“Billy” Irwin Laid To Rest
“The remains of the late William J. Irwin were laid in their final resting place in St. Joseph’s cemetery yesterday morning. The funeral cortege was one of the longest ever seen in Leadville and was a true testimonial of the popularity of the deceased among his many friends.
The remains were conveyed from the home at 124 West Third Street to the Church of the Annunciation, where Rev. J. J. Gibbons conducted the services. He sang a requiem high mass and preached an eloquent sermon. The choir sang “Face to Face” and “Nearer My God to Thee.”
The church was crowded with friends and relatives of the deceased, and a mass of beautiful floral offerings was banked high around the coffin at the altar. The casket was one of the most expensive that could be procured in the city, and when opened up appeared as a beautiful couch.
The members of the Eagle’s Drum corps, of which Mr. Irwin was a member and to whose untiring efforts much of the success of the organization and maintenance of that body was due, attended the funeral in a body. The boys were dressed in their uniforms and with muffled drums beating marched in the funeral procession.
Members of the Eagles, the Moose, the Homesteaders and the Yeomen also attended the funeral and about 100 men from their lodges marched to the cemetery.
As a mark of respect to the man who had served for several years on the fire department, and was at one time its chief, the local department followed the funeral cortege to the edge of the city.
The following acted as pallbearers: M. J. Kilkenny, Abe Flaks, Maurice Miller, Charles Byrne, Charles Slavin and Alexander McDonald.”
Had he lived to see the 1912 general election he may have entered into and run for a statewide position. Prior to his last mortal illness he had already been approached by Democratic Party state officials and asked to consider such a possibility. It was their opinion that William “Billy” Irwin was a “rising star” in Democratic Party politics at the state level. Undoubtedly this was due to his tremendous popularity, iron clad honest reputation and his statewide exposure as a prizefighter, boxing promoter and Eagle’s president. In addition to these attributes, he was Irish and Catholic in a state that was considerably Irish and Catholic. He was staunchly pro-labor and unionization in a state that was also considerably so. Unfortunately the untimely demise of William “Billy” Irwin, at the early age of 41 can only leave one to “speculate” about “politician” William Irwin in the 1912 general election and other elections beyond..
Irwin plot St. Joseph's Catholic Cemetery at Leadville, Colorado.