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Charles Irwin, Harford businessman, entertainer, WWII veteran and Senior Olympian, dies at 100

Charles Irwin of Bel Air is shown reminiscing about a Baltimore Sunpapers Chirstmas radio program he sang on while stationed with the Army in Europe in 1943. Mr. Irwin died Thursday at age 100.
Charles Irwin of Bel Air is shown reminiscing about a Baltimore Sunpapers Chirstmas radio program he sang on while stationed with the Army in Europe in 1943. Mr. Irwin died Thursday at age 100. (Christopher Assaf/Baltimore Sun file)

Charles Wright Irwin, a retired Harford County businessman and World War II veteran, who later in life was a Senior Olympics champion, died Thursday morning. He was 100.

Mr. Irwin returned from the war as an Army sergeant and went off to New York to make his mark as a song and dance man on Broadway. He had entertained troops in Europe with the Army’s Road Show, he recalled in an interview several years ago.

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Mr. Irwin had the talent, County Councilman Jim McMahan, a long-time friend, said, but performing on Broadway was a tough business to crack.

Mr. Irwin was an understudy in a musical to Ray Bolger, of “Wizard of Oz” scarcrow fame, McMahan said.

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"Charlie told me one time, referring to Bolger, ‘the guy just never got sick,’" McMahan said.

Mr. Irwin got his singing start at Bel Air High School with Choral Director Reba Snader, McMahan said. Even though he didn’t make it on Broadway, Mr. Irwin didn’t give up singing. He sang in church choirs and many local weddings, McMahan said.

"My dad was a natural tenor and he and Charlie sang at numerous holiday functions when the church choirs would come together,” he recalled. “They even sang a duet or two in years past."

In his business career, Mr. Irwin was advertising director for a local radio station and later started his own advertising agency. He was one of the founders of Harford Bank and an early investor in Harford County’s cable television system that became part of Comcast.

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He joked one time that what started as Multiview Cable Company consisted as a “a couple of lines run to some Edgewood motel rooms.” When up and coming Comcast bought the Harford company and its franchise rights in the late 1960s at the dawning of the cable era, Mr. Irwin held on to the Comcast stock he received and said he never regretted it.

He was preceded in death by his 101-year-old sister, Elizabeth Lee Cronin, of Fallston, who died in April.

Mr. Irwin was born Nov. 1, 1917, according to a death notice posted on the website of Schimunek Funeral Home of Bel Air, which is handling the funeral arrangements that were incomplete Friday morning.

He was the son of John Lee Irwin and Mayfield Wright Irwin, who were married in 1914. His mother had been a teacher at Bel Air High School before she got married and moved to Staunton, Va., with her husband, according to a published wedding announcement on file at the Historical Society.

Mr. Irwin was a 1935 graduate of Bel Air High School, when the school was in a brick building next to the former Bel Air Academy on East Gordon Street.

His entry in the El Adios yearbook, which is in the stacks of the Historical Society of Harford County, indicates an active student life and an early affinity for performing.

He was in artistic organizations such as Glee Club, Student Stagers, the Operetta and the senior play. He was a multi-sport athlete, as a member of the tennis, soccer, basketball and track teams, plus he was involved in student council and many other school activities.

He participated in track and field events into his 90s. In 2010, while living in Pennsylvania, he won all four events he entered in the 90-94 age group at the Pennsylvania Sr. Olympics: high jump, long jump, shot put and discus.

He also faithfully attended the annual reunion of the “Old Bel Air High” classes from 1933 to 1950 held at the Level Fire Hall.

At the 2015 reunion, Mr. Irwin said, “It’s a little disconcerting when you are the oldest one here,” but he was able to keep attending in 2016 and this year.

Mr. Irwin and his late wife, Jacqueline Kelly Irwin, were married in Bel Air in 1950, according to a newspaper account from the time.

His wife died in March 2013 in Willow Valley Retirement Home in Lancaster Pa., where she and Mr. Irwin had lived for several years. The couple had three children and three grandchildren.

“Jackie” Irwin had been a model, radio performer and actress in New York City before she got married, had rubbed elbows with some of the biggest stars of the day, including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Betty Grable, according to her obituary published by Lancaster Online.

She later wrote for the former Harford Democrat newspaper and co-founded Irwin Advertising and Public Relations with her husband.

Following his wife’s death, Mr. Irwin moved back to Bel Air to live with his daughter, Becky Irwin Dorothy.

McMahan, who was a long-time local AM radio personality and owned WAMD in Aberdeen for a time, said he and Mr. Irwin once competed against each other for advertising, when Mr. Irwin sold for what was then known as WASA in Havre de Grace.

"Even though Charlie was the sales manager for WASA, he was always a gentleman when our paths would cross as I was selling for WAMD," he said.

Indeed, Mr. Irwin was known for being quick with a smile and a joke or a story to tell.

McMahan said Mr. Irwin attended a program in September honoring people who have been named Harford Living Treasures by the County Council.

“I have a wonderful picture of Charlie and me from that event,” he said. “I will treasure it for the rest of my life."

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