‘Brip’ du Pont: A life of service worthy of recognition

Sam Waltz
Founding Publisher

Few people deserve recognition in the “over 80” category being saluted in this issue of the Delaware Business Times more than Irénée “Brip” du Pont Jr.

And yet you won’t find his name in there. From what I understand, he withdrew from consideration late in the process because he didn’t want the recognition at this point in his life.

That’s the Brip du Pont I know. Kind. Modest. Unassuming. Contributing. Community-minded.

In the over-80 category, you can’t get any older than Brip du Pont and still stay in double digits. He’s 99 and will turn 100 in January.

People who don’t know the du Ponts attribute all kind of stereotypes to them, reflecting the family’s grand place in Delaware history.

For many, that grand place would similarly equal grand. Flamboyant. Extravagant.

And wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth about Irénée “Brip” du Pont Jr.

Yes, he continues to live independently in Chateau Country, in one of the grand estates that has been named, in this case, Granogue. But, rather, befitting the grand tradition of the family, he’s lived a life of service.

I’ll mention two of his areas of endeavor, Wilmington University and the Delaware Safety Council, but a list of dozens has been compiled.

One of the best-kept secrets in Delaware has been the phenomenal growth of Wilmington University, which today continues to expand its role of serving Delawareans, including a large contingent of adult learners who finding Wilmington U uniquely suited to meeting their needs in career growth and acceleration.

Former president Jack Varsalona and current president LaVerne Harmon – who each have stewarded the university progressively through extraordinary growth almost unparalleled in its category – give the credit for the wisdom, insight and support to Irénée du Pont Jr.

Jack Varsalona once told me of a movement that was afoot to name the University after him, which Brip du Pont promptly quashed when he heard of it. In its emerging new northern campus on Route 202, which he facilitated, many wanted to name it after him, which he declined.

This past summer, local insurance executive R. Bruce Swayze and I as co-chairs of the Board of Directors of the Delaware Safety Council honored Brip du Pont with the Council’s first-ever Lifetime Achievement award on the occasion of the centennial of the council.

The mission of the Delaware Safety Council is to keep Delawareans safe at work, at home and in the community. It has been one of the nation’s leading Safety Councils.

At its luncheon, Brip du Pont gave a 15-minute talk – a talk, not reading from a script – describing his family’s 100-year association with the council, including its commitment to safety and the council mission.

“Accidents took the lives of 117 DuPont Co. workers in 1917. That was the grim history. In 1919 it fell to my father to become the president of the DuPont Co. His first order of business was to stop this unnecessary slaughter,” said Mr. du Pont.

“Today, 100 years later, it is my pleasure to review the origin of safety on the job. Why is an employer obliged to operate a safe place in which employee can work? Who first recognized this obligation and made it stick?”

He went on to share what had been a family value system about community, which went on to become a company value system, which clearly had become hard-wired as his own personal value system. At the conclusion of his remarks, he received a standing ovation.

`Columns like this one don’t have the space to honor the achievements that so many of our over-80 honorees really deserve. How does one render a standing ovation in print for an Irénée “Brip” du Pont Jr.? 

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