The University of Pittsburgh Board of Trustees has renamed Pitt’s Pennsylvania Hall the K. Leroy Irvis Hall. The resolution was passed June 30 during the University’s annual board meeting. The move posthumously honors the legacy of K. Leroy Irvis, a Pitt alumnus, emeritus trustee and legislative leader.
“K. Leroy Irvis' role in establishing the University of Pittsburgh as a state-related institution helped fuel our transformation into a global leader in education and research and effectively threw open the doors of higher education for generations of students — and generations to come,” said Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “We are committed to ensuring that the significance of his work — and his great influence on our University community — never fades.”
Located adjacent to the John M. and Gertrude E. Petersen Events Center, the facility now named K. Leroy Irvis Hall is a nine-floor residence hall, housing the Living Learning Communities of the Health Sciences and the University Honors College. The facility accommodates more than 400 Pitt students.
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This is the latest notable commemoration of Irvis’ legacy at the University of Pittsburgh. In 2008, Pitt named its annual Black History Month observance the K. Leroy Irvis Black History Month Program. The University of Pittsburgh School of Law honored him with its Distinguished Alumni Award in 2004. The K. Leroy Irvis Reading Room, which houses his personal archives, was established in the Hillman Library in 2001. Irvis was among the inaugural class of the University of Pittsburgh’s Legacy Laureates — which recognizes preeminent alumni for extraordinary achievements and is considered one of Pitt’s highest honors — in 2000.
Irvis was a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1959 to 1988. He most notably served as the Speaker of the House, the first African-American presiding officer of a statewide legislative body since the Reconstruction era. He also was the first African-American clerk of Pittsburgh’s Court of Common Pleas.
Cathryn Irvis, the widow of K. Leroy Irvis, said, “It pleases me and my family that the University of Pittsburgh has chosen to honor my husband in this way. One of his main priorities throughout his career was education. He always said that education was the ‘bridge to success’ and he worked tirelessly for young people to attain quality educations.”
Regarded as a champion of social issues, Irvis sponsored or cosponsored more than 1,600 pieces of legislation, including the bill that created Pennsylvania’s state-related system of universities. He also spearheaded legislative efforts that created the community college system, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.
As a community activist during the mid 1940s and '50s, Irvis is noted for organizing activities in support of a wide variety of civil rights issues throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania. He also played a major role in establishing the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, Pennsylvania Black Conference on Higher Education and the Pennsylvania Minority Business Development Authority.
A member of the Phi Beta Kappa national honor society, Irvis earned his law degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1954. Irvis passed away in 2006.