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God, Country, Notre Dame and Mike

| Thursday, February 24, 2022

Friday morning, I was on campus with a number of Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI) Fellows. We gathered in our Lounge in DeBart to watch the livestream of a memorial service for our fallen Fellow, Mike Boyce. Another Fellow and his wife made the trip back home to Atlanta to join Mike’s wife, Judy, and their family and friends to say goodbye to our friend. Tom and Mary were joined by Mike’s ND Spiritual Advisor.

In Tom’s words, “As we approached the Church, the street was lined with American Flags. Police were directing traffic and hundreds of people were making their way to the Church. Lots of Military are in attendance, and veterans’ organizations’ representatives are prominently displaying their flags and support. It is quite amazing. The Church is large and there are three TV cameras professionally filming the event. There is a supporting choir of fifty singers. We are proudly representing ND, ILI and all of you from the front rows.”

I returned to ND for my ILI year with a list of things to do, people to meet and plans to accomplish. I hoped to make some new friends along the way. I can tell you, however, that I had no way of anticipating how quickly Mike would come to be a force to us and how deeply I would feel his loss.

In times of loss, people often say “he/she was the best among us.” And though those words are often a comfortable way to express grief or to provide solace to the living, about Mike, truer words have never been spoken.

When thinking about Mike, it is almost impossible to decide who or what he loved most. His wife, Judy, was dear to him. He was devoted to her and never left her company without an endearment or a kiss, but most often, both. Mike graduated from Notre Dame with the Class of 1971. An accomplishment that he recounted with some glee, describing how he sneaked by when an insurmountable requirement was dropped. Upon graduation, Mike entered the Marine Corps, a service he continued for 30 years. Along the way, he rose to the rank of Colonel, but I can’t tell you how many places I had to search to find his rank. You see, his service was more important to him than the rank he achieved. As a Marine, he pledged service to his country. As we learned from her at his Atlanta memorial service, he was especially devoted to Frances Cook, Ambassador to the Sultanate of Oman. Mike and his unit earned her enduring admiration.

Mike came to Notre Dame as a Fellow in the ILI Program. He had not had many opportunities to return to campus over the years as his military service took him far and wide. ND was never far from his heart, however, and he relished being back. In fact, after many years of devoted service to his wife’s church in Atlanta, Mike returned to Mass with great regularity. His ND spiritual advisor, Fr. Kevin Sandberg C.S.C. said his funeral Mass in the Basilica. Judy was honored by the Notre Dame NROTC and was presented with a flag in honor of Mike’s service.

On a personal note, beyond my sense of loss, I have been so moved by the number of students who shared their concern for Mike and Judy. You have highlighted what is so wonderful about our friend Mike — his ability to have a special and unique friendship with everyone irrespective of age and even politics. You have shown grace and maturity in the face of loss.

Mike’s service to country was not limited to his Military service.  Upon his “retirement” from the Marines, he returned stateside and eventually ran to be County Board Commission chair of one of the largest counties in Georgia. His government service was as distinguished as his military career. A Republican, he funded additional green spaces, increased compensation and benefits for all employees, added Veterans Day as a county holiday and guided the county through a turbulent 2020. His death was mourned by the Democrat who ousted him after one term in office. Asked about the outcome of the election, Mike acknowledged that his opponent just “got more votes.”

Mike was true to his God, honored his country with life-long service and loved Notre Dame. He is gone too soon and leaves a hole in our hearts that will be difficult to fill. We will remember his impish smile and be challenged to love and serve others as Mike would want us to do in his memory.

Mike will be laid to rest at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Mary Ellen Woods is a graduate of the Notre Dame class of 1980. She has returned to campus as a Fellow in the Inspired Leadership Initiative (ILI). As an undergraduate, she lived in Breen-Phillips and now lives off campus. Her columns appear every other Thursday. A longtime resident of Chicago, she can be reached at [email protected] or @MEWsmuses on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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