Paul Samuel Boyer of Madison departed this life on March 17, 2012 at Agrace Hospicecare, following a three-month bout with cancer. Born in Dayton, Ohio in 1935 to Clarence and Ethel Boyer, he attended the Dayton public schools and Upland College in California. In the 1950s Paul became a conscientious objector, in accordance with the beliefs of his family's denomination, the Brethren in Christ. Following a two-year office assignment at the headquarters of the International Voluntary Work Camps in Paris and hands-on experience building post-war houses in Bielefeld, Germany, he journeyed home via Africa, India and the Far East.
Paul transferred to Harvard University, where he completed his undergraduate degree and later earned his doctorate in American History. While at Harvard he met and was married to his wife of fifty years, Ann Talbot of Baltimore, Maryland.
The couple moved to Amherst, Massachusetts where, in 1967, Paul became a professor of American history at the University of Massachusetts. Their children, Alex and Kate, were born during this time. In 1980, Paul was called to teach at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where, as a member of the history faculty, he held the Merle Curti Chair in American History. In the 1990s he served as Director of the U. W. Institute for the Humanities. In addition, he taught as a visiting professor at Northwestern University, U.C.L.A. and the College of William and Mary. Following his retirement he became a series editor at U.W. Press, and a co-author for several college textbooks.
Boyer's writings reflected his lifelong interest in religion and the impact of religious belief on American culture. His titles included Purity in Print, Salem Possessed (with Stephen Nissenbaum); By the Bomb's Early Light, and When Time Shall Be No More, He edited and was a contributor to history encyclopedias, and delivered numerous lectures and papers, both here and abroad. His final book, A Very Brief Introduction to American History, is being published this spring.
Paul was a natural leader. He will be remembered by friends, colleagues and his students for his modesty, kindness and good judgment; his spark of humor, his balanced views, his skills as an editor, and his original approach to historical topics. His family will remember him as a wise, caring and considerate husband and father, an avid traveler, a lover of music and art, a great reader, a devotee of long-distance driving, and a resourceful grandpa.
Survivors include his wife Ann, his children Alex (wife, Mary) of Minneapolis; and Kate (husband, Michael Buser) of Bristol, England and two young grandsons, Ethan and Jake. His is also survived by his brother William Boyer, (wife, Esther), sister-in-law Kathryn Boyer, and sister-in-law Marion Talbot Brady (husband, Jeremiah) as well as a number of cousins, nephews and nieces. He was predeceased by his parents and his brother Ernest L. Boyer.
A celebration of Paul's life will be held at 4:30 pm on Friday April 27 at the First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Drive, Madison. Burial will be private. The family wishes to thank Paul's oncologist, Sam Lubner M.D. and the skilled and dedicated nursing staff of Agrace Hospicecare for their care of him during the last months of his life. Many friends pitched in as well, caring for Paul and his family in a variety of ways. Donations may be made to University of Wisconsin Foundation, the Mennonite Central Committee, or Wisconsin Public Television.
I was saddened to hear of the illness and passing of Paul. Paul and I grew up together in Dayton. I looked forward to times he came to Messiah College and we were able to get together. I will miss his Christmas letter and personal note.
I was just one of the thousands of students that studied under Prof. Boyer at the UW. I took only one course with him but he always stood out in my memory as one of the best and most unforgettable. He was kind and generous and wonderfully interesting to listen to. Twenty-five years on, I cannot recall the names of most of my professors, but I will never forget Prof. Boyer. My deepest condolences to his family.
I am grateful â€“ indeed, honored â€“ to have known and studied with Paul Boyer, and I will miss him tremendously. Together with Yi-Fu Tuan, he was the teacher who had the most profound impact on my life, and after whom I model my own career as a teacher/scholar. He demonstrated the fine balance between rigor and generosity; he opened the world of intellectual and cultural history, which led me to American Studies; he proved that intellectual curiosity is both cool and never ending; and, perhaps most importantly of all, he showed me that kindness and compassion have a true place in the academic world. That my second book was published in his series is an ongoing source of pride, because I knew that if it were good enough for Paul, it must have had some merit.
Paulâ€™s seminal and sustained writing on nuclear culture has been inspirational to a generation of researchers worldwide. His keen and incisive analysis of historical data â€” whether statistical, mass media or material culture â€” was masterful and complemented with an accessible and authoritative narrative style. Paul was very generous towards (and forgiving of) young and emerging researchers in the field, reviewing honestly, offering nuanced advice, mentoring, opening professional doors and gently guiding scholars in their pursuits. I had the distinct pleasure of staying with Paul and Ann on two very short, but charming, trips to Madison where I experienced his wisdom, pragmatism, gentleness and good humour first-hand. My heartfelt condolences to Ann and family.
I was deeply saddened to hear the news of Paul's death, and would like to send my condolences. I feel a deep sense of loss, but also of gratitude for the privilege to get to know Paul. I cherish the fond memories I have of his kindness and generosity, as well as his fierce intellect and academic brilliance. I will miss him greatly and wish the disease had not taken him from his family, friends, and the whole profession. He will be remembered by many people for who he was: A wonderful man and a great scholar.
Paul Boyer has held a very special place in my heart, in his role as the editor for the series that published my first book. His support and enthusiasm for my project meant a great deal to me. He will be missed, but he will also be remembered and the important work that he did and his legacy will live on.
Paul had a rare mix of qualities. He was candid but considerate, accomplished but unassuming, a productive scholar who was also an avid reader of others' work. In his role as series editor at the University of Wisconsin Press, he was especially generous with his time, offering countless authors the benefit of his intellect, his sure editorial sense, and his encouragement. As the acquisitions editor overseeing his Studies in American Thought and Culture series, I am grateful for his dedication and for the example he set through his everyday conduct. He was responsible and responsive, promptly and thoughtfully answering inquiries from my colleagues and me, and his observations were often laced with a delightful sense of humor. He was smart and kind and fun, and I will miss him for all of this. Gwen Walker
Dear Ann, I was saddened to hear that Paul has passed. As I am sure you are aware, George Mosse also suffered from liver cancer at the end of his life, and like Paul, decided not to pursue treatment. How lucky we have both been in our lives to have shared part of our journey with such extraordinary individuals. Paul was not only a great scholar and teacher, he was also a great man-a man of compassion, sensitivity, and generosity. Whenever I saw Paul, I came away feeling that I was in the presence of a great spirit- so similar to Merle Curti in his warmth and concern. Sincerely, John
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