Donald Boulton, who served for 26 years as Vice Chancellor and Dean of Student Affairs at the University of North Carolina, died last week in Chapel Hill. He was 90 and surrounded by his family after a lifetime of helping countless students and others as an educator and a pastor.
Don was a beloved husband, father, grandfather and friend. He loved sports, travel, civic and religious work, his family and, always, UNC. He gave endlessly of his time and himself. He loved watching the Tar Heels play almost any sport; attending board meetings for one good cause or another; or playing a round of golf with friends at Chapel Hill Country Club.
He was active in the Interfaith Council, an advocate for retired faculty and played a part in the construction of new affordable housing units for working families in Chapel Hill.
Don was a true proponent of empathy, love and the diversity of thought and ideas. He believed this was how we learn about each other and grow in our understanding of the world. To Don, these qualities were as much a part of the educational process as was the pursuit of an academic degree and shaped his work in creating innovative programs that provided inclusive environments for all students.
"We have so much to learn from each other," he once told The Daily Tar Heel. "Our diversity should not be measured in terms of numbers - it should be measured in terms of what we can learn from this richness that's all around us."
His passion for sports, education and religion came together in 1981, after President Ronald Reagan was shot in an attempted assassination. UNC was scheduled to play for the men's basketball championship against Indiana and there were calls to postpone the game. From his hospital bed, Reagan insisted it be played, and Don was asked to give a prayer on national television before tip-off. He was instructed not to pray for either team but only for the president and the nation. He did just that.
Even after he retired from UNC, Don never really retired. He continued working in the accreditation program on student affairs and student athletic programs for universities around the country. He became a visiting professor at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and regularly returned to teach there -- and get in rounds of golf at the famed Old Course. He also remained involved in the Presbyterian church and served as a volunteer pastor at a small church in Yanceyville.
"Most people will remember Don for working in student affairs and admissions, but if you asked Don, he would always say that despite the lack of wearing a robe and standing behind a pulpit, he was always a pastor," said the Rev. John Rogers, a close friend and Presbyterian minister.
Donald Arthur Boulton was born on New Years Eve in 1930 in upstate New York, near Saratoga. He spent his early childhood in the small village of Northville, where his father was the school principal and the hardships of the Great Depression weighed on daily life.
When his father got a new job in the city of Schenectady, Don's eyes were opened to a larger world. He encountered immigrants from Poland, Italy and other countries, an experience that helped spark his lifelong interest in travel, as well as his desire to meet and help people of all backgrounds.
He majored in biology at Alfred University and was then accepted into New Brunswick Theological Seminary. Don became the youth pastor at the First Dutch Reformed Church in Schenectady and won a World Council of Churches fellowship to Germany, where he studied under the prominent theologian, Karl Barth. It was only 10 years after the end of World War II, and Don learned the language and basked in living in a foreign culture. He also traveled to the Middle East for two weeks to study the Dead Sea Scrolls.
After he returned from Germany, Don enrolled at Columbia University, where he earned a doctorate in education. His administrative career began at Upstate Medical College in Syracuse, N.Y., where he did most everything -- admissions, alumni affairs, dean of allied health -- and taught psychology. He oversaw a major construction program to build a new hospital, student union and two dormitories, a job performance that led him to a new position at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago.
Then his name was forwarded to UNC, which was looking for a Dean of Student Affairs. Although hesitant at first to move to the South, Don saw an opportunity to help build the university into a more inclusive and modern institution. He and his family embraced the community and Don left an indelible imprint on a university that became one of the great loves of his life.
At UNC, Don joined a leadership team that would reshape the school and build the next generation of university programs and infrastructure. This included the establishment of a Sports Medicine program, a campus wide food service, and increasing the enrollment of women and African American students.
His first wife, Marilyn Myers Boulton, also became active in civic affairs in Chapel Hill, while raising their three children, Christopher, Michael, and Elizabeth. She served on the town council for eight years before passing away in 1985. Don remarried in 1988 to Rosemary Roberts, a newspaper columnist in Greensboro. She survives him, as do his three children, two stepsons, eight grandchildren and a great grandson. Don is also survived by his brother Bruce, and sister, Karen Barnes.
Don was one of the most genial people at UNC, yet his job often landed him in the middle of campus controversies. It was part of being dean of students, which he described as "the most active classroom on the campus." His decision in 1974 to recognize the Carolina Gay Association elicited resistance, but Don didn't hesitate in doing what he knew was right. He also was in the middle of efforts beginning in 1991 to establish a Black Cultural Center on the UNC campus.
Don regarded these campus controversies as ultimately rejuvenating. He felt that institutions were made stronger by having to reexamine their motives, how they operate and how they treat people.
"Every so often," he once told The Chapel Hill Newspaper, "we need an event startling enough to make people think."
A Memorial Service will be held at 3:00 pm on Saturday, July 31, 2021 at the University Presbyterian Church
209 E Franklin St, Chapel Hill, NC.