Waterford’s David Irons loved people, and the back-and-forth of an argument.
In the last few years of his life, when he was restricted to his home and few visitors came by, he craved to fill that need somehow. So he spent his days reading the news on sites like theday.com and Waterford Patch, commenting along the way.
“He had always liked talking to people,” said his wife of 16 years, Maura Irons. “This was his way of communication.”
On Wednesday, Irons died at age 66, after suffering a massive stroke Sunday afternoon. His wife, afraid the fellow commenters would wonder where he was, posted the news of his death in The Day’s comment section.
"I felt that they would probably think it odd if all of a sudden he stopped making comments,” she said. “And they would wonder why he wasn’t.”
The response was something Maura Irons never would have predicted. Dozens of people wrote in, thanking David Irons for his respectful and thoughtful comments over the years, and for being one of the few commenters on news sites to use his full name. And on Friday, The Day ran a story about Irons, calling him a “de facto leader of The Day’s online community.”
“I was amazed,” Maura Irons said. “I didn’t know it would draw this much attention. I was shocked.”
David Irons grew up in Waterford and lived here almost his entire life, with just a brief stint in New Hampshire. He was a Vietnam veteran who spent his career working for the Department of Defense. He enlisted in the Army National Guard after leaving the Army, Maura Irons said.
After retiring from the National Guard in 2006, he was hired back by the Department of Defense at the same job as a civilian contractor, Irons said. However, his health began to deteriorate in the past few years from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), a lung disease that makes it difficult to breath, Maura Irons said.
In the past few years, he had to retire from his job as he needed to breath off of oxygen tanks, and was confined to his home, Irons said. Few people came by and visited, and when they did “he would talk their ear off,” she said.
So he would fill his desire for interaction by commenting on news articles online, Maura Irons said. And while he had strong opinions, he was opened minded enough to change his mind, she said.
"... He would always listen to the other side and would sometimes change his opinion,” she said
Irons, a father of three, was respected by the other commenters, along with web masters assigned to review those comments. Elissa Bass, who formerly worked as an editor for The Day before becoming an editor at Patch, said she always appreciated Irons' contributions to both platforms.
“I always appreciated that David Irons used his real name when commenting on The Day and on Patch,” she said. “He backed up what he believed in with his identity and felt no need to hide behind a pseudonym. I also always appreciated that David held himself to a high standard of civil discourse. He could and would disagree with lots of viewpoints in these forums, but he did so in a respectful and intelligent manner that always added to the conversation.”
Despite the COPD, David Irons was expected to live for some time, Maura Irons said. Yet Sunday afternoon, while sitting at the kitchen table, he suffered a massive stroke, she said.
He was rushed to the hospital, and the doctors said they could try a surgery that — at best — would mean he would be confined to a hospital bed the rest of his life. Instead, he chose to die.
“I’m still in shock,” Maura Irons said. “I’m still not really completely comprehending it.”
“He was the most non-judgmental person I have ever met,” she continued, holding back tears. “He accepted people for what they were. And liked the good in them.”
For local news sites like this one, it means a rare civil voice removed from the comment stream. Yet Bass knows the comments will still go on.
“I will miss him from our online community," she said, "and I know that if there is online commenting in heaven, David has already posted."