Q&A with Paul Irwin

Paul Irwin, Professor of Mathematics, Randolph College, 1974-2016

Paul Irwin, Professor of Mathematics, Randolph College, 1974-2016

Changing of the Guard: Bill Coulter | Paul Irwin | Bill Mattson | Ted Hostetler

How quickly did you get accustomed to Southern accents?

Pretty quickly, although one day I committed a horrible blooper because I wasn’t thoroughly attuned to it. Some background: Those of us who had business at the College in the summer would gather in the admissions office each morning to get our caffeine fix. The director of admissions encouraged this because we would chat up prospective students and their parents while they were waiting for an interview.

One morning, a prospective student’s father introduced us to his daughter whose first name was Tallah, or so I thought. Trying my best to be engaging, I addressed several questions to her using her name. Turns out her name was Tyler. I believe she enrolled at Hollins.

Is it true that the reports of your demise were greatly exaggerated?

One day in 1976, Carl Stern told the Skeller Board that he needed some help being their advisor. I would often go into the Skeller and help out by restocking the drink machines.

But one afternoon, I forgot that it was my day to lecture in our mathematics senior seminar. Since I never missed class (even when it snowed), the two students in seminar that day thought I had died. Seriously!

Did you ever play a prank on a student?

Not only didn’t I miss class, but I took it personally when students cut my lectures. One young woman missed a few Friday classes because she and two friends took off for Florida. Well, why get angry when you can try to get even? The following academic year she went to Reading, where I knew the weather can be gloomy. I asked a student from Florida to bring me some touristy postcards. I wrote postcards to the Readingite indicating that thanks to her, I had discovered the joys of Florida. I asked the Floridian to drop one in the mail each time she returned home. I don’t think the Readingite suspected anything fishy while she was in England; I couldn’t resist spilling the beans when she returned for her senior year. We’re still friends!

What’s one of your funniest memories?

President [Linda] Lorimer gifted some of the senior faculty with reserved parking spaces behind Main Hall. Very prestigious! That’s the good news; the bad news is that my remote entry device for my car had a very sensitive and poorly-placed panic button.

More than once, I set off the car’s horn, making me the faculty member least appreciated by the occupants of Webb. I finally solved the problem by super-gluing the panic button, rendering it inoperable.

Your scones are famous on campus. What’s the story?

One Christmas, our daughter’s boyfriend, now her wonderful husband, gave me a scone pan made by Nordic Ware (not to be confused with NordicTrak).

The scones were easy to make and soon became a staple at Reading teas and in the admissions office to thank them for letting me drink coffee there.


Paul Irwin’s famous scones. Yum-O!

  • 2/3 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 4 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 8 tbsp. cold, unsalted butter
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
  • ½ cup granulated sugar

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat scone pan with cooking spray. Beat egg with buttermilk and set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add butter, cutting with a pastry blender or rubbing with your fingers, until mixture looks granular. Lightly stir cranberries and sugar. Stir in buttermilk mixture with a fork until a soft dough forms.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead five times. Separate dough into eight equal pieces and press into individual spaces of the scone pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until medium brown. Let cool 20 minutes in pan. Remove from pan and cool completely.

**Other ingredients, such as chocolate chips, can be substituted in place of cranberries** Recipe from Nordic Ware®