Irene Adelaide Parsons was born in Wilkes County, North Carolina and graduated from high school in nearby Taylorsville. She attended Brevard College for two years and then worked in Wilkes County until she had enough money to enroll at Woman’s College in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1939. She graduated two years later with majors in business administration and education. She later received her master’s degree from George Washington University.
Parsons spent one year teaching high school in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. Then in summer 1942 she began working with the Civilian Service Commission as a recruiter in Washington, D.C. She was later sent down to serve as administrative assistant in the employment office at the Norfolk Navy Yard headquarters in Portsmouth, Virginia.
Parsons joined the Women’s Reserve of the Coast Guard (SPARs) in June 1943 and was selected to go to the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, as part of the first class to train there. After eight weeks of training, she was sent to work in Washington, D.C., at the Coast Guards headquarters, working in personnel. She remained there until her discharge in August 1946. She immediately went to work for the Veteran’s Administration (VA) in recruiting. She worked her way up in the organization, and in 1960 she was appointed assistant administrator and director of personnel for the VA by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Parsons retired in 1975 after almost thirty years of service, then worked occasionally for several years as a management consultant. Parson is a recipient of the Federal Woman’s Award, given to outstanding women in government; the Civil Service League Award, for exceptional service in government by men or women; a commendation for distinguished service from President Richard M. Nixon; a George Washington University Distinguished Alumnae Award; and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from UNCG.