Leading by Example

York College’s Ecological Sciences Building has been named the Naylor Ecological Sciences Center in recognition of the Naylor family’s support.

The nation’s top-earning owner of steeplechase horses in 2011, Irvin S. Naylor, 76, is watching a video of his horse, Alpha Beat, win the Guinness Kerry National at Listowel, Co. Kerry, Ireland. His trainer has just sent the DVD, and he savors the moment when the handsome gray draws away from the rest of the field. Naylor executes a neat turn in his wheelchair, and talks about his remarkable life in which horses have played — and continue to play — a large part.


Naylor himself has played an important role in York College’s growth, and helped it stand out from the rest of the educational field. The College community will be familiar with his name as he has been a supporter for some years; his eldest son, Scott, and daughter-in-law, Rebecca, are both 1981 graduates. Last May, Naylor received an honorary degree and gave the 2010 commencement address at York College, which received a standing ovation.

“They must have liked my jokes,” he says, with a grin. It is true, he did tell a Winston Churchill story in the speech, and counts Churchill as one of his few heroes. Another person who inspired him is his mother, Ida Mae, who gave him the $20,000 loan he needed when founding Lok-Box, his first business. It flourished and he paid her back within a year, with interest.

Naylor is an inspiration for the Class of 2010 – as well as those in the steeplechasing world and the community. He is a highly successful, civic-minded business entrepreneur, philanthropist and sportsman, who emphasizes the importance of giving back regardless of obstacles.

At the beginning of the 1999 steeplechase season, when he was 64, after 48 years of successful competition, he decided the Grand National in Butler, MD, and the Maryland Hunt Cup, would be the last two sanctioned races in which he would ride. Both timber courses are the most challenging and unforgiving jump racing in the world. He was in the lead on his horse, Emerald Action, in the Grand National when his horse fell at the next to last fence; he was thrown, breaking his neck. Not only would he never ride in the Maryland Hunt, or any race again, but his life was changed forever.

The Race to Find a Cure

Despite several operations, Naylor remains a paralyzed quadriplegic except for some movement in his arms. He took up the reins of his life again, consolidated resources, and began to adjust to his circumstances, determined to find a way to walk once more. He realized that stem cell research was the best option for him and others in similar situations.

He has set up a company, CELL-SCIENCE, LLC, for the purpose of ending paralysis, including paralysis from stroke, utilizing a cell (iPS) that has been modified to allow the recipient to gain mobility. It has taken Dr. Jose Cibelli at the University of Michigan four years to develop iPS with funding help from Naylor. At the same time, Naylor has been working with Dr. Philip Horner at the University of Washington, who is completing transplantation studies.

Naylor hopes to have Dr. Cibelli’s cells planted into his spinal chord next February or March. If all goes according to plan, he will be among a handful of pioneers brave enough to put aside their fears in the interests of finding a cure for paralysis.

The race to find a cure is one of the toughest Naylor has had to face, but he’s not one to shy away from a challenge. His strong will, perseverance and determination have always served him well. His competitive streak hasn’t diminished either; he says it is in his DNA.

Giving Back

Naylor’s philanthropic streak is as strong as ever. Earlier in the year, he donated funds to construct a building at his old school, McDonogh in Maryland. This October, York College’s Ecological Sciences Building became the Naylor Ecological Sciences Center in recognition of a substantial gift. Naylor has always appreciated the environment and enjoyed outdoor pursuits; before his accident, he was an active skier, tennis player, foxhunter and scuba diver. He was interested in the commercialization of green sea turtles in the Cayman Islands. Naylor and his wife of 37 years, Diane, are generous contributors to numerous causes.

He calls York College, “an excellent institution that provides a very good education at a reasonable price – very hard to find these days.” He has increased his contributions significantly in the last few years to support its mission.

Asked about the Naylor Ecological Sciences Center, he says, “The quality of the faculty and the subjects taught, will make the building important, otherwise it is just mortar and bricks.” As with all of Naylor's endeavors, the Ecological Sciences Center will be a home for innovation and success.

Results matter to Naylor. He was an outstanding wrestler and became the Maryland State Champion in high school. In college, he went undefeated. As a rider, his steeplechasing record is remarkable. His 1966 Benjamin Murray Memorial win on Emerald Action, when he was 60, made him the oldest winner to date of a National Steeplechase Association sanctioned event. He led the National Steeplechase Association in money won in 2010 and 2011. He has served on the boards of The York Water Company, McDonogh School, National Aquarium in Baltimore, The American Institute of Industrial Engineers, and the Pennsylvania National Horse Show.

Naylor runs extensive ski operations under the holding company, Snow Time, Inc., and several family members work at the resorts.

In 1960, Naylor says he “took stock of my life and came to the conclusion that everything I really liked, since I was in good health then, involved access to money. With adequate funds, I could do all the things I liked and, therefore, I’d better get to work!”

Naylor decided to start his own company in 1962, Lok-Box, selling wooden boxes for cigars and English Leather toiletries.

His father, who owned a filling station, passed away when Naylor was in his twenties. He wishes that he could ask him and his grandfather, who was a blacksmith, all the questions that come to mind now. He recalls that his grandfather helped foster his early interest in horses. “He used to give me a nickel a horse to be a fly-sweep — keeping flies off the horses’ legs and bodies so they stood still while he was shoeing them.”

Naylor credits his education, starting at the McDonogh School, and continuing at the University of Miami, where he earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in industrial engineering, plus a master’s degree in business administration, as having a great deal to do with his success. He knows the value of a good education, and has this advice for York College alumni:

“If you genuinely believe in the YCP mantra,  then you should support it every year, hopefully in increasing amounts as you prosper from the education you received there.”