He came to Marietta a poor boy from Decatur Township, a rural community in western Washington County, in search of a better education than what his one-room schoolroom could provide.
William Bay Irvine sold pots and pans as he worked his way through Marietta College. The first biology major under Professor Harla Ray Eggleston, he graduated cum laude and left Marietta after graduation in 1917 only to return in 1941 to serve as the Director of Admission. By 1948, the Board of Trustees felt confident in his leadership and elected him the twelfth president. He remains the first and only alumnus to be elected to this post.
During the Irvine Administration, the College flourished. As dean, Dr. Irvine helped the campus address the influx of veterans and their wives enrolling after the end of World War II. As president, he embarked on campaigns of physical, enrollment and financial growth of the College.
His actions and his words embodied the love that he held for Marietta College and for the great works it has done since its establishment in 1835.
During a fall 1950 faculty meeting, Dr. Irvine made comments regarding the important roles that each instructor must successfully portray in the lives of every student. "You must remember that you are dealing with the most precious product of creation—an entity in the image of God, a child who is loved by his parents, and who in the aggregate carries the responsibility for the future of mankind on this earth. I do not mean that you should be a maudlin sentimentalist. There may be times when it is necessary for you figuratively to knock this growing mind into a corner. It is all right to knock him into a corner if you get into the corner with him and help him out."
As far as growing and improving the campus, it was Dr. Irvine who decided to invest money into the "Old Library" in 1961 and convert the familiar structure into the new administration building. Unlike the Board of Trustees, he was not afraid of going into debt and entering massive fund campaigns to make such improvements. The project, initially estimated to cost $275,000, cost $313,382.
"Early in the project, without his knowledge, the trustees voted to name the development 'The William Bay Irvine Administration Building.' In his final illness, a delegation sought his approval, and received it," wrote Dan McGrew in his book, “In the various branches of useful knowledge."
During his administration, the College underwent three major fund campaigns—the Building and Development Fund, the 125th Anniversary Fund and the Student Union Fund. He was also a major part of the building of a new art center on campus.
When Grover M. Hermann announced that he would donate $225,000 to Marietta College for a new chapel or some other new building, it was Dr. Irvine who persuaded the donor that the College was in great need of a fine arts center that would foster more art, drama and music education. Mr. Hermann initially upped his donation to $725,000, and eventually contributed $1,175,000 toward the new structure.
Beyond his administrative duties, Dr. Irvine and his wife, Freda '47, lived their lives on campus. Often times the president and Mrs. Irvine attended campus events or dined with students in dining halls. His close connection with students led to the Student Senate, on behalf of the student body, creation of one of the top academic prizes for one graduating senior. They named the prize "The William Bay Irvine Medal." Sadly, Dr. Irvine, who was set to retire in July of 1963, died just one month after the first medal was bestowed upon a graduating senior during Commencement.
The editorial board of The Marietta Daily Times eulogized the late president the week of his death on its editorial page:
"What none of us can know is the effort and the endurance which this man must have marshaled during the final year of his tenure in order to complete visitations to alumni groups across the country, and to have details of program and plans in readiness for his successor. Bay Irvine's was a useful life that would have continued useful in the retirement to a country home which was to have commenced toward the end of this summer. It is with a mixture of sadness and warm remembrance that Marietta—the College and the community—and the rest of his native Washington County reluctantly say goodbye to him this week."