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February, 2014 Issue

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A tribute to Boyd Jones

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I can't begin to tell you how difficult it is to honor someone who has made such a mark in the field of Campus Activities. When I interviewed Boyd there was just so much to ask and so much to tell that it pains me to explain that these pages are nowhere near enough to celebrate the 33 years Boyd has given as a professional among us.

While there are many celebrated acts, agents and even other activities professionals that have made their mark, not one of them can touch the genuine devotion to this industry that Boyd has lived and will leave behind when he retires this spring.

While The University of Tulsa (where he spent his earlier years with Larry Payton) and Winthrop University (where he spent 22 celebrated years) neither had what we would consider big budgets, he has delivered one award-winning activities board after another; he has discovered acts that were virtually unknown and helped move them toward national attention; he has played a major role in the development of Campus Activities Magazine and served in key positions with organizations dedicated with the enhancement and education in the field of student activities.

Known for his famous "high fives" and always with a big smile, he was consistently ready to tell you what he thought in an eloquent and disarming way and most of the time he was right. He was a champion of accord among the players in this industry and his Tennessee roots touted a morality and fairness rarely experienced in the entertainment sector. We started this interview with a Dolly Parton story and I would be woefully remiss if I didn't share it with you:

"I had always wanted to meet Dolly Parton and in the back of my mind I just believed that one day that would be realized. When I was 50 years old, there was a woman that worked at Winthrop maybe a year, maybe a year and a half. I happened to mention one day that I always wanted to meet Dolly and she told me 'My brother works for Brad Paisley.' Well I put that in the back of my head and although that wasn't helping me, it was interesting to know. Fast forward: About a year later Dolly and Brad did a duet. So I went back to her. I said what is your maiden name and she told me 'Rogers.' Well I happened to look at the CD and every single song said 'produced by Frank Rogers.' So I thought to myself, this is some big guy, not someone who just drove the bus.

I went back to this lady and I said, 'your brother worked on a CD that just won a Grammy for best collaboration for Brad and Dolly. I told her that Dolly was coming to Charlotte and I had tickets. Was there any way she could work something out with your brother so that I might meet her? Well Brad Paisley had become so big in Nashville and Frank was the guy over Brad and Darius Rucker, Trace Atkins and Josh Turner and he wasn't returning her calls because he was just so busy. So I just thought it wouldn't happen but then about 2:30 on the day of the show, she came into my office and said, 'you are meeting Dolly Parton tonight at 7:30.'

"Five hours notice... but I didn't have time to get THAT nervous. I was told to go to the merchandise table and wait at the very end for Michael, who had been her keyboard player for 15 years to find me. And sure to my friend's word, he finds me and takes me back to see Dolly. She is sitting in front of a make-up mirror. I had decided not to plan it out because I didn't want it to come out too stuffy. But when I met her I just blurted out, 'Dolly Parton I have been waiting 50 years to give you a hug.' and she looks at me as says, 'Well let's make it a big one then.' I hugged her spinning her around.

"We had the best time and we sat around and talked for maybe 10-15 minutes.The show started at 8pm and she was to be on for 2 1/2 hours. There was no opening act.

"I told her when I was a kid, I always wanted my mother to buy Breeze detergent because she advertised for it and as far as I know that is the only product she ever endorsed. Well as a true professional, she took my hand and tapped it on the top and said 'you come back after the show and let me know what you thought.' So, not only did I meet her once, I met her twice and she truly wanted to know what I liked and wanted different in the show."

Boyd is a true Tennessean. He grew up in Columbia, TN on a farm 43 miles south of Nashville. "I was an only child and while some people think 'only children' are spoiled. Not on a farm. That just means if there is something to be done, there is only one choice. We didn't have a huge farm but it was about 40 acres. It was a country community and as much as I loved it, I knew I wasn't going to live there. I graduated from high school in 1976 and was voted 'Most Helpful.'

"I had always wanted to attend the University of Tennessee but after visiting the campus, I was somewhat overwhelmed. Where I lived was about 20,000 people and UT had about 30,000 even then. Because I had grown up as part of a community church, some of the kids were going to Harding University, about six hours away in Arkansas. My family set up a time for my parents and I to get a campus tour and we met this great lady, Rose Wilson who worked in Admissions. She could not have been nicer. I ended up being there for five years and there was not one week that went by that I did not visit with Rose. I probably had 50 meals at her house and I get cards and letters from Rose to this day."

Boyd was on the program board at Harding for four years.

"My first job was at The University of Tulsa working for Larry Payton in 1981. I was Larry's assistant and two or three years into my job there, Larry became chair of the Board at NACA. So I got to meet people like Kevin Fahey, Sara Boatman and Jimmy Ferguson. Because they often had meetings at the chair's campus, I got to know all these people and more. It was a time when hypnotism was also blossoming in the campus market and I got to meet Tom DeLuca and Gil Eagles before him. I connected with a lot of people who helped me in my campus activities journey.

"Then Larry started his own company. The way things worked out, I got Larry's office and a small increase in pay but there were no funds for an assistant so I was pretty much doing everything.

"I was at Tulsa eleven years and loved the area and the work. We were the smallest Division 1 school in the country. But then the school's president died. He was never heavily involved in our activities program but he let us alone and let us do our job. The university did a search and found this young guy, Michael Davis, who could not have been nicer and more supportive. He came in July, got sick and died by November of pancreatic cancer. The university had to re-group and do a search which resulted in hiring someone who was totally different. I am sure he was a nice person but an academic egghead. He didn't see the need for sports, theater and other departments. I lost $67,000 in one day for activities because the library needed more books. He didn't understand the need for Greek Life. He didn't understand these were people who came back for activities and supported athletics and donated to the school.

"I saw the handwriting on the wall and every two or three weeks one of my colleagues was losing their job. I told every artist that came to Tulsa if they knew of any other campuses looking for an activities professional, let me know. Rick Miller called me and told me of an opening at a small school in South Carolina. I applied and got an interview at Winthrop. I fell in love with the area and one of the perks was that you can get Sun Drop there."

Boyd moved to Winthrop in 1992 and arrived a few days before they opened the residence halls. Nothing had been booked. He immediately started calling acts and agencies with whom he had worked before and pretty soon a schedule was in the works.

"Winthrop had previously been an all women's college and the biggest hurdle was getting over the suitcase campus designation. I was told that people didn't come to events because they went home every weekend. Those that didn't had the clubs in Charlotte at their disposal. I had some work cut out for me. I had been here only a week when I was invited to the president's house for a dinner meeting. He told me he wanted to see events every Friday and Saturday night. Most of the other people I talked with thought this was insane because we had a hard time attracting attendance during the week. But, we immediately started doing events on the weekend and have been doing so every since. Tom DeLuca comes during our Welcome Week and has been our only hypnotist each year until we decided to also bring in Sailesh in Spring 2013. This Spring (2014), we're bringing Chris Jones.

"We have tried to establish a history with artists here at Winthrop. We don't have the biggest budget, but they become our friends and we treat them right. Sometimes I can't get an artist at the beginning of a semester because they can get a better price somewhere else, but they will often use us when they have an open date and many of them have been coming here for years at the same price or close to the same price. We send them notes ahead of time to tell them how much we anticipate their coming. We leave notes at their hotel to make them feel more at home. We put a star on their dressing room door. We take them out to a unique local place for dinner after the show. And after they leave we send them notes to tell them how much we enjoyed having them."

"But things are changing. The conferences are not as important to my students for buying artists. I don't think the best way to put a schedule together is to go to a bunch of showcases and book lots of artists because your student body has no clue who they are. Our students are into YouTube and I had resisted but they finally convinced me to bring in a guy from Greenville who was a YouTube sensation. I never dreamed it would have worked but he came in with his mother, father and grandparents when he performed and every seat was filled. He was good and not all that expensive. He didn't even have an agent ? I dealt with his dad. Another thing that has been good for us has been some of the contestants on these network music shows. We have gotten several at very good prices and they drew excellent crowds.

WHAT'S NEXT: "I've worked since I was 16, so when I leave Winthrop, I am going to take some time to reflect. I won't move right away but I will go back and visit Harding University and the University of Tulsa. I've never been to Las Vegas or the Grand Canyon and I want to go there. I am a huge Saint Louis Cardinals fan, so I want to go to a home game in the new Busch Stadium.

"I would love to work at Dollywood... like the Mayor of Dollywood who walks around and talks to visitors and fans. I think I could be a great PR person for both Dolly and the park. The reason I am not exploring that right now is I need to unwind and take some time for me and because I am a single person, it will be easier. I don't just do this job at Winthrop, I am totally into many activities at Winthrop. I go to home men and women's basketball, softball , baseball, volleyball and lacrosse games as I love supporting my Winthrop Eagles . If one of my kid's is in a play, I go to the play. I just don't know how to do this job unless I put in 150%. I am part of this community. But as much as I love my life, I am ready to decompress and start over."

And after the decompression? "I want to work and live in the Smoky Mountains. I would love to work at Dollywood , the Smoky Mountain Opry or something in Gatlinburg...even the Dollywood Resort that is coming soon. I eventually want to live in Nashville. I have a lot of friends from high school, college and performers that have ended up in Nashville. I would just continue to go to all the employment offices for the theaters and attractions. I don't want to be a popcorn vendor but I think I would be an excellent ambassador.

For 33 years, Boyd has been at the forefront of campus activities and the campus market. While we all will miss him, we wish him luck in whatever the next step in his life will be. High Five!