My 7-year-old son Caleb generally keeps his own counsel when it comes to matters of the heart. But his beloved Grandpa Boyce’s passing has been especially tough on him. A few nights ago, Caleb said his bedtime prayer, sincerely requesting that Grandpa have a “nice time” at his own funeral. He then paused and said to me in a quiet voice, “Mom, Grandpa’s stuck in my head.”
“Mine too, buddy,” I replied, “Mine too.”
I completely understood what he was saying, because Bob Boyce stuck in so many of our heads – and in our hearts. So the task of writing his eulogy was daunting. How could I even begin to encapsulate his life in a few minutes? As luck would have it, Dad was a prolific writer and had already done a lot of it. So I will share many of his own words, some of my memories, and tributes of him that have come pouring in since his passing.
As is often the case, Dad was greatly influenced by his parents’ examples. Here’s how he described his mom:
She loved to laugh and be with people.
She was highly intelligent but didn’t fully realize it.
She was the hardest worker I have ever known.
She felt deeply. She loved literature and the video equivalent: movies.
She was very compassionate and caring – always doing things to comfort those in turmoil.
She was easy for me to talk to.
She loved me.
What’s interesting to me about these descriptions of my grandmother is that every single one of them also describes my dad. Everyone.
Here’s one of his descriptions of his dad:
“He set a tremendous example of faithfulness and steadfastness.” Again, those two words describe my dad, very well.
Dad wasn’t always smart, even though he excelled in school. Quote:
I was 6. Mom said, “Bobby, go see if the waffle iron is hot.” I set my hand down on the grid. It was. My hand looked like a waffle for almost a month.
Dad wasn’t always perfectly behaved at home. Quote:
I didn’t like my sister coming into my room without my permission. That didn’t deter her at all. One day when I was in my room, I heard her in the next room. Somehow I knew that she didn’t know I was in my room, and I sensed that she was about to come in. I hid under the bed. Sure enough, in she saunters. When she got right by the bed, I reached out and grabbed her ankle. She got sick she was so scared.
Nor was he perfectly behaved at school. Quote:
7th grade. We had the crabbiest substitute teacher. We’d had her before. She had on a red and white circle pattern dress. She kept standing by my desk and yelling at my friends. I succeeded in getting a few faces drawn in the circles in her dress with my fountain pen without her feeling it. I never did get caught. My friends treated me like a conquering hero.
But eventually, Dad started to grow up. After what he termed a “spiritual crisis,” Dad decided to serve a mission for the Mormon Church. Those 2 ½ years he spent in Peru, teaching and serving other people, changed and shaped his life in countless ways.
It was on his mission that Dad started to develop empathy. Quote:
Other people’s needs and feelings did not consistently register with me until I was on a mission.
It was on his mission that Dad decided on his career path. Quote:
My first major was political science. I had a great civics teacher my senior year in high school who helped me realize I could think. My secret ambition as a result of that class was to someday be a U.S. Senator, so I chose a major that I felt would help me realize that dream.
The major I graduated in [teaching] came about this way: I taught Sunday school for a while in the mission field. A church member started paying tithing as a result, he said, of one of my lessons. The teenage daughter of the branch president, who had refused to be baptized up until then, came up to me after a Sunday school lesson I had given on baptism and invited me to her baptism. She thanked me for helping her understand it for the first time.
The Lord, through experiences like these, helped me realize I could teach: that was my gift.
And thus my dad started on a path that would bless hundreds of lives. One of his former students said of him, “Brother Boyce was the greatest seminary teacher on this earth. I actually enjoyed getting up early and going to seminary because of him.”
Dad kept maturing, and we’re all grateful that he was smart enough to ask my mom on a date when he met her. Dad said that spring has always been his favorite time of year, because it was during the spring that he and mom fell in love.
Life changed forever when he became a dad. Here’s how he described it. Quote:
Being a dad left me more awestruck, amazed, and thrilled than I have ever been. It was awesome.
And that’s where I came into the picture. When I was young, I didn’t know or care too much about his history or his profession. He was just my dad. He was around sometimes, sometimes he traveled. He did what dads did. He loved me, and I loved him. So when people told me what a great man he was, I’d think, “Of course he is.” It was simply a given.
In fourth grade, I fancied myself an excellent speller because I had won my class spelling bee. I remember coming home one day, chock full of how smart I was, and asking Dad to spell the hardest word I knew: simultaneous. I knew it would be too hard for him. He spelled it without even looking up from the evening paper. That did it: Dad was officially the smartest person I ever knew (and I didn’t even fully understand what it meant to have a doctorate, which he had).
And then I turned 12, at which point something strange happened: Dad started to become annoying.
There was the time he got super frustrated at my mom for handing him a wrench the wrong way, when it was clear to everyone else in the family that he was simply too proud to admit that he couldn’t fix the washing machine to save his life.
In my teenage superiority, I rolled my eyes and told myself I would never react that way when I became a parent.
Another time, Dad couldn’t find his nail clippers I had asked to borrow. He thought he had safely hidden them in a small box on his dresser, but one of his eight pesky children had found and absconded with them. When Dad discovered this, he went completely ballistic.
Again, eye roll and firm resolution on my part.
Or when he’d say something that embarrassed me in front of my friends. That was, like, the worst. Plus, there was the fact that he traveled and wasn’t always around; as a result, I didn’t always feel a strong connection with him.
So when I was a teenager and people told me what a great man he was, I’d think, “Well, maybe. But you don’t really know how annoying or embarrassing he is. And that he doesn’t really understand me. Nor I him.”
But, eventually — and very slowly — I started to grow up.
After my own spiritual crisis, I also decided to serve a mission for the Mormon Church. The 18 months I spent in Austria, teaching and serving other people, changed and shaped my life in countless ways. And I understood my dad a little better.
After my mission, I was smart enough to ask Jeff on a date when I met him. We fell in love during the winter. After our first baby was born, Dad drove from Arkansas to Baltimore, where we lived, to spend time with us. I was a brand-new mom, completely overwhelmed by my feelings of love for my daughter Kirsten. I tried to articulate those feelings to Dad. Dad looked me in the eye and said, “Everything you’re feeling right now towards Kirsten is exactly how I’ve felt about you since the day you were born.” For the first time in my life, I fully understood the depth of his love for me. And I understood him a little better.
A year or two later came the inevitable. One day, my husband had the audacity to get really, really irritated at me while I was only trying to help him fix the toilet. Let’s just say he’s not a plumber, but is a little proud to admit it. I remembered my dad’s attempts at home repairs – and understood him a little better.
Later, after spending months reiterating to my young teenage daughter that my makeup was to stay in my bathroom, and even after buying her very own makeup for her so that mine would stay put, there came a morning when my makeup was nowhere to be found. At which point I went completely ballistic. I thought about my dad and the nail clipper incident – and understood him a little better.
My kids grew. Mom & Dad moved to our neck of the woods. Dad made it a point to go on lunch dates with my kids, take them fishing, shoot hoops with them, attend their games and performances. He made it a point to go on lunch dates with me. Dad traveled so he could be with other kids and grandkids for their special occasions. By that point, I knew what it means to try and juggle more things than you think possible, and that prioritizing family time takes real effort. I appreciated and understood Dad a little better.
Retirement didn’t slow Dad down, although he did pick up golfing again. Allegedly, there was a point early in my parents’ marriage when Mom gave Dad an ultimatum. “It’s me or golf,” she had said to him, “You choose.”
He chose wisely. However, his golf scores never fully recovered.
But mostly, Dad spent time with family, taught part-time and worked in the temple — all while counting down the days until he and Mom would serve a mission. More than anything, he wanted to continue making a difference in people’s lives and was so very excited when it was finally time to go.
Part of the paperwork submission process for missionary service requires thorough health exams. It was a result of these exams that we found out about the cancer.
Dad was devastated that he couldn’t serve another mission. In fact, the hardest thing about losing energy and capacity to cancer was that he felt he could no longer make a difference, no longer teach, no longer serve.
Except that he continued to make a tremendous difference in our lives. His courage and optimism throughout a truly terrible ordeal taught us more than any lesson ever could. Bob’s kids, grandkids, relatives and friends will all remember him when things get tough. If Bob Boyce can do something that’s very, very hard – with a smile on his face most of the time — so can we. So can we, Dad. We thank you for that.
And, Dad continued to serve.
Me, for example. In January, I suffered a severe concussion in an accident. It took months for my brain to recover (it still hasn’t completely, in fact) and was very difficult. My dad, who was himself recovering from a recent round of chemotherapy, called me one day to say he was taking me out to lunch. One of the side effects of chemotherapy is what the doctors call a “brain fog,” where it’s difficult to think clearly at times. Concussions, as you may know, have similar side effects.
We were quite a pair that day, my dad and I, especially when we got lost on the way to the restaurant.
My phone’s battery was dead, and Dad (of course) didn’t want to ask for directions, so we had only our certifiably unreliable brains to rely on. The good part? This gave us about 30 extra minutes in the car to talk before we finally arrived at the restaurant. After lunch was over, we managed to find our way back to my house.
I walked into my house and wept. I understood what a sacrifice that had been for him, but he did it because he loved me and wanted to serve me. And I understood him a little better.
I hope my dad knows how many people’s lives he affected for good. Years ago, while one of my cousins was serving a Mormon mission in Taiwan, he met a 26-year-old fellow missionary. My cousin asked him why he had chosen to serve a mission, and the missionary started talking about an institute teacher who had changed his life. The name of that man? Bob Boyce. This is just one of hundreds of stories.
Dad served his Heavenly Father and fellow man every day of his life. His life was his mission.
Another cousin wrote the following tribute to my dad:
Whenever I think of the “abundant life” I will always think of Uncle Bob. He died richer than anyone I’ve ever known: an amazing family culture and happy relationships with a wife and 8 children, a bounteous teaching career with so many appreciative and transformed students, and a true minister of Jesus Christ who never tired in offering the good word of God to uplift and comfort others. . . I could feel the spirit of love he had for others as he exuded joy about doing just every-day things with those he loved most: going to a grandson’s baseball game, serving in the temple, having dinner with old friends, attending a baby blessing or baptism.
They say you reap what you sow. Thanks for modeling how to garden, Uncle Bob.
Dad, you will always be stuck in our heads, and in our hearts, and we’ll miss you every day. But at the same time, I’m so happy for you, because I have a pretty good idea of what probably happened once you passed over to the other side. After your reunion with your parents and other loved ones, my guess is that you found whoever was in charge and asked these questions:
Who can I teach? How can I serve? Who can I love?
I invite all of us to honor the remarkable legacy of my dad, Robert Daniel Boyce, by following the example of our Savior Jesus Christ — in whom he had deep, abiding faith — by regularly asking ourselves these three questions:
Who can I teach? How can I serve? Who can I love?These thoughts of honor, love and remembrance I leave with you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, into whose loving embrace my father has now entered, Amen.