Irene Jr. attended "Little" Lovett School, the Westminster Schools, Ashley Hall in Charleston SC and earned a BA in English and Foreign Languages from the University of Georgia. A nine-month trip around the world, her parents' graduation gift, ignited Irene's life-long passion for globetrotting and for the power and beauty of language.
This wordsmith's early career milestones included brief stints in California as the first production assistant for The Monkees' TV series, as a fashion writer for the venerable Los Angeles Times and as managing editor of Rags, a hippie-oriented style magazine. In Atlanta in her 20s Irene made her mark as women's editor in the inaugural years of the still-thriving Northside Neighbor, performed volunteer work for Junior League, and cofounded in 1968 The Outstanding Young People of Atlanta – now known as Outstanding Atlanta – a premier nonprofit organization charged to recognize and encourage the business and civic accomplishments of the city's young adults.
Irene accepted her last paycheck at the age of 27 in order to devote full time to risking everything as one of the original "house-flippers" in San Francisco, where the stock of potential Victorian makeovers was irresistible. The $10,000 borrowed from her skeptical father seeded the impeccable, serial renovations of more than a dozen vintage properties in a decade. With her beloved husband James "Jamie" W. Lee of Las Cruces, New Mexico, this highly successful young entrepreneur returned to Atlanta in 1979 and bought up two blocks of historical but neglected buildings at the juncture of Virginia and N. Highlands. In 18 months this renovated commercial project, appropriately dubbed The Corner, became a vibrant, award-winning hub of retail, restaurant and nightlife that spearheaded the revival of the faded Virginia Highlands neighborhood.
Succumbing to the siren song of the islands, Irene and Jamie crossed a continent and an ocean to establish themselves in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii. During her 33-year residency, Irene designed and built two exceptional homes, earned a loyal following for her 25-year nuts-and-bolts travel column that appeared in two leading newspapers, and orchestrated luxury journeys around the world to raise major funds for preeminent Aloha State's nonprofit organizations. A generous donor and tireless worker for her adopted community, Irene served on several boards and commissions; helped to spearhead local fundraising projects; and was awarded Volunteer of the Year by the Kona branch of Outdoor Circle, Hawaii's preeminent environmental entity since 1912. She considered Kona On My Plate, a cookbook that she conceived and edited, to be her proudest volunteer achievement. This stunning bestseller was judged First Place National Winner of the prestigious Tabasco Community Cookbook Awards and netted more than $200,000 for its sponsor.
Irene returned to Georgia in 2015 and spent her last years reconnecting with school chums, designing custom journeys for a fortunate few, and reading voraciously hundreds of the ebooks downloaded to her iPad. She presided over historic Boxwood Cottage (aka Gann House, c. 1841), Smyrna's oldest residence, that she had exquisitely renovated from roof-to-cellar and regarded as her livable work of art.
Without children to consider, Irene devoted much of her thought, efforts and personal funds to improving the quality of life in the communities where she lived. She was a thoroughly independent woman who oft declared herself "to have a genetic inability to follow orders." An informed mind, strong opinions and incredibly high standards, tempered by a kind heart and infectious sense of humor, moulded her character. She cherished her mother's appraisal, "Irene has always been my most difficult child ... and my most interesting."
Irene is survived by her adored siblings Ed and Susan Croft, Weston and Ouida Croft, Greg and Mary Croft Ferguson, all of Atlanta, and Laurie and Susan Croft of Richmond VA. (She lost her sister Sarah Croft of Atlanta to cancer in 1993.) Irene also leaves behind 11 beloved nieces and nephews and their families, her dear former husband Jamie Lee, and cherished BFFs Olivia Thompson of Miami and Ethne Cameron of White River, South Africa.
A veteran of travels to 227 countries and remote islands around the globe, Irene viewed her earthly expiration as the embarkation on her final – and most amazing – journey: to Terra Incognita, the uncharted realm of the spirit. Godspeed, sister, wife, aunt, cousin, friend.
Farewell/Celebration of Life services will be held at a later date to be determined. Irene's ashes will be interred at Aiken SC in the graveyard at St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church, the traditional Croft family resting place, also at a date to be determined.
If you wish to make a memorial offering, the family asks that you donate to the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, https://cfgreateratlanta.org, that shares Irene's unshakable belief in the power of philanthropy.
Arrangements Provided By: West Cobb Funeral Home Crematory