Remembering Phil Irwin

phil irwin VOA photo

phil irwin host

R. Philip Irwin Jr. passed away on November 30, 2020, after a full life of service to his country and his community.

He was born on April 29, 1934, in Ossining, New York, and grew up in the riverside town of Croton-on-Hudson. The descendant of three generations of New York Central Railroad men, his family sidetracked his love of railroads by sending him to Syracuse University, where he studied broadcast production. His career in radio began at WOLF in Syracuse, followed by Army service with Armed Forces Radio in Germany and a year with pirate Radio Mercur in Denmark. He then worked for Voice of America, the largest U.S. international broadcaster, for 24 years, rising to become Chief of Morning Broadcasts in English. He pioneered country music programming at VOA, and his Breakfast Show with co-star Pat Gates had an international audience of 20 million people.

Shortly after starting at Voice of America in 1960, he discovered Rappahannock County, where he spent the rest of his life. He rightly believed that Rappahannock is a special place that is worth preserving. He founded the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection in 1970 and co-founded the Piedmont Environmental Council in 1972. In 1973, he granted Rappahannock’s first conservation easement. The conservation movement remained a driving purpose throughout his life, with many successes due in large part to his dedication. He brought his skills as an organizer to numerous other community, bed and breakfast, and model railroading organizations. Most of his work on trains was at 1:87 (HO) scale, and he loved giving tours of his elaborate model railroad in his basement.

After retiring from VOA in 1985, he opened Caledonia Farm – 1812 Bed and Breakfast, which brought interesting guests to his home for 35 years. Before opening his B&B, Phil visited over 330 bed & breakfasts in North America. He delighted in sharing the unspoiled open space that he discovered back in 1961 and worked diligently to preserve for his future guests. As a retired international broadcaster, he enjoyed telling folks where to go...nicely...often providing custom maps to the main points of interest in the least developed Virginia county east of the Appalachian Mountains.