The tributes paid to the Rev. Nathaniel Irvin on his retirement sum up a life of service, love, dedication, devotion and godliness.

“He’s a great preacher. He’s a great humanitarian. First of all, he has a genuine, unmistakable love for Christ, and that immediately translates over to his dealings with his fellow man,” said Frank Gardiner, a former neighbor.

“He’s truly a servant of God, and we thank him for all that he’s done for this church, this community and way beyond,” said Jerome Miller, another longtime friend who returned to Aiken County for Irvin’s retirement ceremony on Sunday.

And from Frank Roberson, superintendent of public schools in Augusta-Richmond County: “He’s just extraordinary. ... He fits every single situation. Whatever the situation is, he can rise to a point to help you sort through it, and every person that I know knows this about him. You don’t have to be a member of his church nor one of his former students. He’s going to reach out to help you if he can.”

Irvin, 84, is retiring as pastor of Old Storm Branch Baptist Church, a position he’s held since 1980. His ties to the church go back even further – he was baptized there in 1943.

Irvin’s career also will be remembered for his influence during the 1970s when the local schools were integrated. An administrator, teacher and counselor, Irvin moved with the changes and help usher in a peaceful transition.

Last week, Irvin talked about that time.

“I taught at a segregated school. I taught at an integrated school, and ... we integrated in 1971. At LBC, for nine years of integration, not one time did we have a racial problem ... I taught sociology, psychology and was a guidance counselor there, and I taught adult education at night. I taught blacks at night to begin with. When we integrated, then we taught blacks and whites together at night, but not one time in nine years did we have a racial slur that I heard of at LBC.”

There’s no doubt the smooth transition was due in part to Irvin’s thoughtful, deliberate message. “We cannot afford to be a black or white society,” he said. “God is neither black or white … America must be careful not to become a worshiper of material things. The wealth must be shared. If not, the richer will become richer and the poor will be poorer,” he said earlier this year.

Irvin may no longer be in the pulpit on Sundays, but he will still be doing God’s work. Our community is all the richer for having men and women such as Irvin who lead by example, are fearless in their commitment and who truly understand the meaning of service.