July 6, 2017

Don Boesch, the Coastal Scholar, steps down after 27 years

Dr. Don Boesch, President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. Image credit: Baltimore Sun

We had two very nice events to celebrate Don Boesch’s twenty seven year career as President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. The first was held on June 1 at the Institute of Marine Environmental Technology in Baltimore with some 300 people attending. It featured many speeches and testimonials and was a grand event. The second was a more intimate affair, held on June 27 at the University System of Maryland estate where Chancellor Robert Caret resides. It is known as Hidden Waters and we had a reception in the main hall and then dinner under a tent. Both events were blessed with wonderful weather and an upbeat mood. It was wonderful to catch up with so many different friends and colleagues.

The first event, hosted by IMET, was attended by over 300 guests. Image credit: UMCES

At the IMET event, Sheilah Kast, who hosts a popular National Public Radio show, On the Record, was the emcee. Jim Brady, Chair of the University of System of Maryland Board of Regents, spoke of Don’s “long and distinguished career”, with an emphasis on “and”. Maryland State Senator Paul Pinsky called Don the “People’s Scientist”. Maryland Secretary of Environment Ben Grumbles had us all laughing when he said that he had been waiting for the opportunity to provide reporters with the chance to report that Senator Pinsky’s speech was followed by grumbles. Note that Senator Pinsky, a staunch Democrat, often gives the Republicans a hard time in hearings, and Ben Grumbles is a political appointee of Republican governor Larry Hogan.

Hidden Waters is the University System of Maryland’s residence for the Chancellor, Bob Caret. Image credit: Bill Dennison

Will Baker, Chesapeake Bay Foundation President, said that Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf of Mexico and the planet are all thankful for Don Boesch. He told the story of how he unabashedly appropriated Don’s comment that it was not “A moment for Chesapeake Bay restoration”, rather it was “THE moment for Chesapeake Bay restoration”. Will noted that he had given Don credit for this quote for the requisite first three times, and then shamelessly appropriated the line for additional use. Denise Reed, Science Director at the Water Institute of the Gulf, talked about how Don had contributed to her career and to the Gulf of Mexico, with his impact extending far beyond publishing scientific papers. Bob Caret, Chancellor of the University System of Maryland, called Don the living logo of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). He said that when Don walked in, UMCES was in the room. Marsha McNutt, the President of the National Academy of Science, provided the plenary talk and referred to the history of the “Dead Zone,” low oxygen bottom waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay, and how Don was instrumental in labeling and studying these features. Dave Secor, President of the UMCES Faculty Senate, welcomed Don back into the faculty and recounted some of the major successes under his leadership, including the Research Vessel Rachel Carson and the creation of the Integration and Application Network.

An ardent advocate for the Chesapeake Bay, Dr. Boesch served as one of the keynote speakers at the most recent Chesapeake Bay Report Card release. Image credit: Mike Smith

In addition to the live speakers, the program also featured a series of video testimonials, with Keith Campbell (Campbell Foundation, a major philanthropic funder for Chesapeake Bay), Ann Swanson (Chesapeake Bay Commission), Senator Bob Graham (co-chair of the Oil Spill Commission that Don was appointed to by President Obama), Bill Reilly (co-chair of the Oil Spill Commission and former EPA Administrator), Brit Kirwin (former USM Chancellor) and Freeman Hrabowski (University of Maryland Baltimore County President). Martin O’Malley (Former Maryland Governor) talked about how Don coined the term “precious consensus” which he found particularly poignant.

Current and former Secretaries of Environment, Ben Grumbles (left) and Bob Summers (right), respectively. Image credit: Bill Dennison

Don remarked that he was a “Fortunate Son”, a reference to the Creedence Clearwater Revival band song. He also mentioned that the recent decision by the Trump administration to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement was on the wrong side of history, and made no sense economically or scientifically. He reminded us that we had a lot of work still to do. He implored us to never shrink from problems and to continue to focus on solutions. Don had his family in attendance, and was visibly touched by the outpouring of nice people saying nice things about him.

Don addressing the audience at his retirement celebration. Image credit: UMCES

The event featured two signature cocktails, including the Sazerac from New Orleans and the Black-eyed Susan from Maryland. Don provided a song list with the program and the food was amazing. We had a table for the Integration and Application Network and enjoyed each other’s company throughout the festive evening.

The IAN team at Dr. Boesch’s farewell Dinner. Image credit: John Schroeder

The second event at Hidden Waters included brief remarks by Jim Brady, Bob Caret and Don Boesch. I made a modest contribution with the following poem:

The Coastal Scholar

27 June 2017
William C. Dennison

We have gathered here tonight to give thanks
To Don Boesch who rose up through the academic ranks
From his New Orleans roots in the famous Ninth Ward
We will give him all the fanfare that Hidden Waters can afford.

Don joined CEES some twenty seven years ago
Tackling the most difficult jobs with characteristic gusto
He served 3 Chancellors, 5 Governors, 42 USM Presidents and 11 Lab Directors
And became one of the most effective Chesapeake Bay protectors,

Don created the Integration and Application Network
So that when we encountered real world problems, we would not shirk
He encouraged faculty to do more than just think
He helped them make their science useful like at SESYNC.

Don launched the Rachel Carson and provided sage advice
He could summarize thorny issues and be quite concise
And he was invariably proven correct at the end of the day
From the Baltic Sea, Gulf of Mexico to Chesapeake Bay.

At the helm of UMCES, Don provided true leadership
Dealing with the Maryland legislature with great statesmanship
Taking the science from four distinct laboratories
And helping to weave together cohesive science stories.

Don inspired us all to consider things from every dimension
And to explain our science without any pretension
Don always took the high road, making problems smaller
Don Boesch showed us all how to be a true Coastal Scholar.

Dr. Boesch also made time to teach and present his unique perspective to UMCES students. Image credit: James Currie

What I have learned from Don over the past 15 years as his Vice President for Science Application is that patience, persistence and perspiration pay off. Don was always thoughtful and deliberative about important decisions and I learned not to jump too fast, which was often my tendency. Don was also persistent about important things and did not give up without a good long fight. With environmental issues and university politics, persistence is an important trait. Finally, perspiration, or hard work, was always highly valued. In every task that Don took on, he applied his energy vigorously and putting in the hard work invariably produced the best results.

Don often challenged me to reach higher, to do more and to excel. He encouraged me to continue to teach and advise students in addition to my ‘day job’. On the rare occasions where we disagreed, we always had a very civil discussion and I never went home angry. Don was very sensitive to personal issues that cropped up over our fifteen years together, and I never felt a strain between my personal and professional life imposed by him. All in all, what I think Don Boesch meant for me as a scientist and as a person is that he made me a better person. I cannot think of a higher tribute.

Dr. Boesch has been a tireless force that helped shape both UMCES and IAN into what they are today. He will be missed. Image credit: UMCES

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About the author
Dr Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Applications at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Dr Dennison’s primary mission within UMCES is to coordinate the Integration and Application Network.
Website: http://ian.umces.edu/people/Bill_Dennison/
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