Fellow runners and former co-workers of Richard Irons were stunned by news of the 85-year-old’s death in an auto-pedestrian accident Monday but said they will remember the man whose zest for life inspired them.
Irons was out for a run when he tried to cross Yale Avenue at 55th Place, by LaFortune Park, about 5:20 a.m. and was hit by a southbound vehicle.
“Today is a very sad day for our running community,” said Lori Dreiling, co-owner of Fleet Feet Sports, where Irons frequently registered for races and visited with members of his running group during the last two decades. “We have lost an incredible person who truly supported anyone and everyone who ran or wanted to run. We are beyond saddened by his loss.”
Yale’s southbound lanes were closed for several hours as police investigated the early morning collision.
Cpl. Will Dalsing, traffic investigator with the Tulsa Police Department’s Riverside Division, said other runners and at least one other driver told officers the traffic light was green for the southbound car. Dalsing said it appeared that Irons tried to cross against the light just south of the crosswalk.
“He was near the crosswalk, it seems; however, in the darkness and so forth, the driver of the dark car didn’t see him and struck him,” Dalsing said. “We arrived very quickly, but he was pronounced dead very quickly thereafter. The driver of the vehicle stuck around and has talked to us, very visibly upset.”
Police had no indication the driver was speeding or operating the car erratically, so the driver was released and no charges are expected, according to a news release later Monday.
Irons was featured in the Tulsa World for his running feats at least twice, including right before he ran his first Boston Marathon 15 years ago to raise money for missions projects by two Tulsa churches in Zimbabwe and India.
According to an archived Tulsa World story, he took up running at age 67 even after having part of one lung and a brain tumor removed.
“I can’t explain it, but I’m healthier now than I was in my 20s and 30s,” Irons told the Tulsa World in 2004, when he was 70.
When news of the fatality came out Monday morning, Fleet Feet co-owner Tim Dreiling said he immediately worried that it could be Irons because so few 85-year-olds are out beating the heat on the running trails and because one of Irons’ most constant running companions lives in a house at that very intersection.
“Richard has probably crossed that intersection hundreds if not over a thousand times in his life because that is where they went. And he crossed there multiple times a week,” Tim Dreiling said. “His mind was still good — he was sharp — and I attribute that to the fact that he was active. He moved every day. It was slow — they weren’t moving quick, but they were moving. That’s a really good example of how to live your life — be a kind, good person and be active — because his quality of life was a lot better than many other 85- or 90-year-olds I know.”
When Irons retired as the custodian at Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian in 2018, the church threw him a big retirement party.
“You don’t do this all the time for custodians, but he was so loved,” said Wayne Hardy, senior pastor at the church, located at 4102 E. 61st St. “The whole church was there. He wasn’t a member, but we counted him one in our minds.”
Hardy estimated that Irons had worked there 15 to 20 years after a long career working in a local jewelry store.
Any time of the day or night he was needed, Irons went about his duties of setting up rooms for meetings, taking out the trash, cleaning restrooms and vacuuming with a smile on his face and a kind word for everyone he met, Hardy said.
“He was just the kind of guy you want working at a church. You always hear that saying about a person who never says an unkind word, and, actually, Richard didn’t. He always had something very positive to say, and he focused his attention on the Lord,” Hardy said.
“There are a lot of heartbroken people here today. A lot of groups will miss Richard Irons.”