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Celebrating a Life Well-Lived

In his 83 years of life, Dr. Robert M. Boggs took on several unique roles—public school superintendent, community college president, horseman, teacher, civic leader and actor, among others—but none were more cherished to him than husband, father, coach, mentor and friend. To many, he was nothing short of a legend, and most would say that it was a role that fit him to a tee.

On May 28th, after an extended period of declining health, Boggs picked up his angel wings and passed from this life to the next. It is not a role he or anyone else could prepare for—no rehearsals and running lines with his thespian friends—but then again, by the standards of Mark Twain, his favorite author, he didn’t need to.

On Saturday, the Boggs family will hold a Celebration of Life Service in honor of their husband and father at Beam’s Celebration Center in Marion.

The service will be as unique as Boggs himself and will be filled with things that he loved, including music from Hank Williams, blues and rock band Canned Heat, torch singer Julie London and the Addie’s Chapel Choir.

When they hear Mississippi Delta Blues music at what is often described as a funeral, folks who knew Robert Boggs will completely understand and appreciate the experience. Local minister Treavor Gouge will officiate the service.

The family will receive friends from 1-3 pm with the Celebration of Life Service to follow.

Becoming McDowell Tech’s Second President

Boggs obtained his undergraduate and sixth-year degree (equivalent to a master’s degree) from Appalachian State University before completing his doctorate in educational administration at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He taught English and History and coached wrestling at East Bend High School before becoming superintendent of public schools in Alexander County, Clinton City Schools and Guilford County Schools. In 1984, parlayed his leadership skills into a new role as president of McDowell Technical Community College in Marion, where he served until his retirement in 1999.

It was at McDowell Tech that his personal charisma and “get-‘er-done” style of leadership endeared him to students, teachers, administrators and many others. Besides being college president, he taught classes from time-to-time, and he was a favorite instructor for many. MTCC graduate Amy Gregory remembers him stopping to check on her frequently when she was a student at the college. She was a single mom with two boys, and Boggs was invested in her success. When she couldn’t afford to register her sons for a Little League team, Boggs made sure they got on a team. In fact, one of her sons was on the team Boggs coached, and when he took her son under his wing, she said, “He blossomed.”

From an administrative perspective, his most significant achievement at the college was passage of a local $2.4 million bond campaign which resulted in a significant expansion of college facilities, including a 32,000 square foot Industrial Skills Center with lab and classroom facilities for vocational and technical programs, and an 11,200 square foot classroom and daycare building with space for an auditorium, continuing education programs and faculty offices.

When he initiated the bond campaign, many people said that local voters would never pass it. But Boggs began doing what he was so good at—meeting people and talking about education, the thing that he was so passionate about. He met with firemen and emergency services personnel at local firehouses, talked to civic groups and even went door-to-door at times, explaining the need for new facilities at the college and what opportunities they would open for residents.

His homespun style worked. Voters passed the bond, and construction was completed on the new facilities in 1987.

In 1990, Boggs and leaders at Isothermal and Cleveland Community Colleges and their respective boards of trustees entered into a collaborative agreement to establish a consortium for offering an associate degree nursing program, a first for the college.

Teachers and staff members, however, remember him more for his unique motivational style and playful nature than those accomplishments.

On Friday afternoons, for example, when things were uneventful, dull and boring, Boggs would whisper to the Public Information Officer, “Are there any more of those blue stress balls?” “How many do you want?” came the response, and with a twinkle in his eye, he would sneak off with three or four stress balls. Lurking behind corners, he would graze the head or shoulder of unsuspecting, half-brain-dead staffers and yell, “Wake Up!!,” feigning gruffness. Grabbing the ball that hit them, a chase would ensue. Without a doubt, Boggs was one of the most playful bosses that staffers had ever seen, and clearly, his tactics were energizing and motivational.

An avid horseman, Boggs frequently wore western wear to work instead of suits. A column he wrote for the campus newspaper featured him in those clothes. When the college cut a commercial for local television, he put on his cowboy attire and had a counting lesson with kids from the college daycare, and rode off into the sunset on a stick pony with the kids close behind, reminding folks that learning could—and should—be fun.

Others remember him for recognizing their strengths and encouraging them to reach for their goals. As she was finishing her degree at McDowell Tech, Boggs encouraged Susan Long to apply for a vacant position in Student Services. She impressed the interview committee and Boggs offered her the job. She was one of his last hires at the college before he retired. She is eternally grateful for his encouragement. She went on to get her bachelor’s degree and is now Director of the Student Enrichment Center and Adult Engagement at McDowell Tech.

Going Back to His First Love

A few months after his retirement from McDowell Tech, Dr. Boggs returned to the classroom, teaching at West McDowell Junior High School and McDowell Early College. His energy and enthusiasm in the classroom inspired students to finish school and pursue a variety of careers. “He is the reason I teach,” said Hannah Trammel, a second-grade teacher at Tremont Christian Academy. His listening ear and wise guidance captured the heart of many.

Boggs loved poetry and loved writing poetry. As his colleague Julia Nunnally Duncan recalled, Robert Frost was his favorite poet. He tried to instill a love for poetry in the students he taught with lively readings from various poets.

When he was not in the classroom, he also coached wrestling for McDowell High on a part-time basis. It was important for him to not only give back to the community, but to provide a strong male role model for the young men he worked with.

Mentoring, Helping and Engaging

It was during this time that he also became heavily involved with Magical Moments Therapeutic Riding program, marshalling his experience with horses to help kids of all ages and ability levels deal with behavioral and mental health challenges that they faced. When the high school students he taught wanted to volunteer with the program, he helped them sign up and even provided transportation for those who didn’t have the means to get there on their own.

His wife Lynn recalls so many situations just like that where her husband of 40 years used his own resources to help level the playing field for kids of limited means. Poor kids want to go to prom, too, so he would help buy dresses or pay for hair and nail salon services to make sure poor kids could experience what all the other kids were experiencing. Someone told her that her husband was the ‘last of the true gentlemen,’ and she agrees.

Before they moved to McDowell County, Boggs was a member of the Jaycees, and for a time, he was a local Rotarian in Marion. At one time, he served on the board of directors for MACA (McDowell Arts and Crafts Association), and was heavily involved in community theater.

He acted and performed in several plays, both with Foothills Community Theater in Marion and other theaters around the region. Two of his favorite shows were Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Man Who Lost the River. He starred as “Big Daddy” in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof with Foothills, Old Colony Players in Valdese and the Green Room in Newton, and as Mark Twain in The Man Who Lost the River with Foothills and Old Colony Players.

Rachel Wyatt, who played Maggie the Cat with “Big Daddy” in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, remembers Boggs fondly. “His dedication and love of the craft was so obvious to the cast that it influenced them to feel more secure in their own roles, grow their own talents and look up to him as an actor. He wasn’t just saying lines; he lived his character on stage during every show.”

Family First

But family was first for Boggs. “He was such a good husband and father,” said his wife, Lynn. “We truly had a storybook romance for 40 years.” Boggs had an older son, Paul, and Lynn and Robert had two children, Britt and Hampton. When they were young, he coached Hampton’s Little League teams and went all over the country supporting Britt in national high school cheerleading championships.

Even when they became adults, Boggs stayed close to his children. A few years ago, Hampton directed his dad in a performance of The Man Who Lost the River. At the last minute, however, Boggs ended up in the hospital and Hampton took over his role, deftly reading from the script during the live performance.

Last year at Christmas, Lynn, Hampton and Britt decided to make Christmas special for the husband and father they loved so dearly. Over the years, Boggs had owned and cared for three quarter horses; Johnny Rebel was a spirited cowboy horse, General Lee was a bit calmer, and Montana was the calmest of all. Montana is still with them, but Boggs had been unable to ride for the last couple of years due to his declining health. But at Christmas, the family got him on Montana securely, and he rode around the farm for thirty minutes or so. They wanted him to have one last ride on his last remaining horse. “It was a great gift to see him ride off that day,” said Lynn.

Saying Goodbye

To be sure, Robert Boggs was quite a character—adventurous of spirit and oft full of mischief. But beneath his cowboy exterior beat the heart of a gentle soul that loved life and loved people. He never met a person he couldn’t reach with his charm and smile. He encouraged students to do and be their best, both as a classroom teacher and college administrator.

Former student Melissa Barlowe Harris recalls how Boggs encouraged her to keep going when she was taking nursing pre-requisites at night, even when she sometimes had to bring her baby to class until her husband got off from work and picked him up. Today she is a nurse practitioner.

Stories like that are legion with Dr. Boggs. He was a giant of a man—a gentle giant.

At his passing, no words seem more fitting than those made famous by cowboy singer and actor Roy Rogers and his wife Dale Evans who sang these words:

“It’s the way you ride the trail that counts, here’s a happy one for you.

Happy trails to you, until we meet again. Happy trails to you, keep smiling until then.”

Until we meet on the other side, Happy Trails, Dr. Boggs!

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Celebrating a Life Well-Lived

In his 83 years of life, Dr. Robert M. Boggs took on several unique roles—public school superintendent, community college president, horseman, teacher, civic leader and actor, among others—but none were more cherished to him than husband, father, coach, mentor and friend. To many, he was nothing short of a legend, and most would say that it was a role that fit him to a tee.

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